“My office is in a church converted to non-profit and no-profit offices. Our office mascot is an aluminum cast of a dead cat I made in high school, which sits on a war rug from Afghanistan.”
“Sometimes my office is outside, like in these images of the Grand Canyon.”
Aaron Huey is a photojournalist who freelances regularly for The National Geographic magazines, Harper’s, The New Yorker, the Smithsonian magazine, the New York Times, GEO and dozens of others. He is also a Contributing Editor (photographer) for Harper’s magazine. Huey is widely known for his 3,349 mile, solo walk across America (with his dog Cosmo). The 2002 journey lasted 154 days. There was no media coverage. They walked everystep. Aaron now uses Seattle, WA, where he sits on the board of directors for the photographic non-profit Blue Earth Alliance, as a home base in between assignments. His work is represented by Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles.
FROM YOUR DESKS: How do you work?
In Chaos. I have only recently begun to reign in my randomness through the help of the mighty Chet
. Chet is my assistant. He puts things in folders. He makes labels. He makes charts on the dry erase board with different colored pens.
FYD: I spoke briefly to Ben Lowy about shooting fashion models after conflict photography. Is it difficult to blur the line between commercial assignments and your own projects?
It’s a total head f**k. I shot an NFL cheerleader swimsuit calendar last year and flew straight from the Bahamas to do my TED talk
on genocide. In general it’s not that extreme, but it does mess with you. I gave up conflict photography that involves US military after almost dying in an ambush in Afghanistan
, but there is plenty of trauma covering Pine Ridge that plays with my head. I act like it has no effect on me, but there is no way to escape it. It rearranges my brain in ways that are hard to pin down. I brush it off, but it haunts me. It’s a heavy weight to carry sometimes.
FYD: How did the news of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros affect you?
AH: I am never surprised to hear of deaths/injuries of western journalists. What I am surprised about is that it doesn’t happen more often.
FYD: Do you fear for your colleagues?
AH: I do fear for my colleagues and I have asked one or two to not go recently. A good friend of mine, Michael Christopher Brown, was injured in the attack that killed Tim and Chris. My own personal decision not to embed or be on front lines was solidified long ago. I will do pre and post conflict, and the fringe, to explore larger repercussions of conflict, but I don’t feel the need to see bullets in my frames any more. There are plenty of people out there getting those shots. I’ll wait till the blood has congealed.
FYD: How did your Pine Ridge story come about?
AH: Six years ago, before I was getting a lot of work, I got my agency to pay for half of a trip in which I proposed to do a new (visual) survey of poverty in America. Pine Ridge was the first stop, and it took me so deep that I bailed on the rest of the locations.
We photographers who travel far and go deep into other people’s worlds, especially dark ones, are forced to process much more.
FYD: It’s hard to believe a place like Pine Ridge exists in America. How did it fall forgotten?
It’s such a shameful part of our past we can’t bear to look at it. Even a brief description of the timeline
will make you sick to you stomach. I especially recommend buying “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee”
by Dee Brown, it should be required reading in high school.
On December 29 1890, after decades of treaty violations with the Lakota Sioux, U.S. troops surrounded an encampment at Wounded Knee Creek and massacred Chief Big Foot and 300 prisoners of war, using a new rapid-fire weapon that fired exploding shells called a Hotchkiss gun. Twenty Congressional Medals of Honor for Valor were given to the 7th Calvary for what the Army called the “Battle” of Wounded Knee. This is the most Medals of Honor ever awarded for a single battle—more medals given for the indiscriminate slaughter of women and children than in any battle in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan. That event is now known as the Wounded Knee Massacre, the final act of the Indian Wars. It stands as a symbol of the end of an entire way of life for the indigenous people of North America. Everything can be measured before Wounded Knee and after. Today’s Lakota live in the shadow of that massacre and carry its burden.
The place now called Pine Ridge was once Prisoner of War Camp #344, and it’s people are stillborn into a prisoner of war camp, even if the guards are long gone.
FYD: How did your billboard idea surface?
AH: I have been documenting the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for the past six years. At a certain point I realized how inappropriate it was for the project to end with another book or a gallery show, where everyone patted me on the back and congratulated me for making pretty pictures of suffering.
FYD: How did you enlist Shepard Fairey?
AH: I had the idea to use Shepard first, but connected with an activist/artist named Ernesto Yerena through a few lucky posts that people were sending my way on Facebook about him. I decided I liked his work as much as I liked Shepard’s and asked him to join the project. It wasn’t until later that found out he was Shepard’s understudy for several years.
Now that the three of us have put these images together I think the results are quite strong. The result will be thousands of these images/posters going up on walls all over America. The project closes on Wednesday and we need all the help we can get. Please check it out HERE. This is your chance to own some original art by the most prolific street artists in America AND to support Native Issues at the same time!
Its people are stillborn into a prisoner of war camp, even if the guards are long gone.
FYD: What else can we do to raise awareness about Pine Ridge?
AH: Read. Look at that history dead in the eye. And think about how such oppression continues today, both at home and abroad. The story of the Lakota is the story of many people.
FYD: As you walk the earth and take photographs of situations and document, how do you adapt? Does it change you?
AH: We have no choice but to adapt. Even if we try to resist it will find its way into us. We change the course of our lives with every breath, and with every step, whether we are travelling far away or staying in the same room. I guess you could say that we photographers who travel far and go deep into other people’s worlds, especially dark ones, are forced to process much more. Sometimes that information becomes too much. Sometimes I just want to walk into the desert and forget the madness I’ve seen.
Follow Aaron on Facebook here and his blog here, Ted talk here, DONATE here…today!