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Ten Years After Iraq by William Chan

Ten years after William Chan’s tour in Iraq and it is apparent what is on his mind. Every page of Ten Years After Iraq shows us so. Snap shots of military equipment and bases and soldiers, sandstorms, Iraqi street-signs and Iraqi pedestrians and sand and sky. Lots and lots of sand and dull empty skies fill the frame in many of the photographs.

Consider your regrets. Consider how guilt can inform your every decision thereafter the regrettable—how your thoughts feel inappropriate, then how you embrace those thoughts as rational. Then how you feel repentant for normalizing what you know isn’t normal and now the guilt is compounded—like two guilts atop one another. In a spread of Chan’s Ten Years After Iraq, the text “I was driving home one day after picking up my son. I thought about driving off the highway” juxtaposes a motion blurred photograph of dark sand and a bright sky and a sunset (or sunrise). Theres nothing but space across the sandy landscape and the only edge within the frame is the horizon of either the beginning or end of the day. It looks like you could drive across that sand forever. More guilt. More sand.

In text, Chan revisits picking up his son. It’s part of his routine at home. He doesn’t drive off the highway. In text he expresses honesty, laments decisions, and holds his fellow soldiers in high esteem. By photographs, the military convoys are recurring. The Iraqi pedestrians line up alongside the road and interact with the convoy one frame after the next. A couple of frames include a gun in the corner. One includes barbed wire. We see his fellow soldiers. We see helicopters and military tents. Reminders that routines can change and purpose isn’t always on the forefront of what we see—that purpose lingers in the background, around a corner. Sometimes confronted. Sometimes not. In photographs, Chan shows us what he did in Iraq. The photographs are haunting. Not shocking, but a haunting realism of thoughts and routine. There is no why (or at least it’s allusive) in Ten Years After Iraq. There is just who and what and where, looking and waiting, executed with rote precision. Like bullets waiting in a clip.

Sand gets on everything. In clothes, in shoes, in your eyes, in the chambers of a gun. It might get brought back home after you have been on a trip to the beach or after a tour of duty. Despite being ten years after Chan’s tour, Ten Years After Iraq deals with the now—his family, his post-war perspective, his guilt by way of the unsettled, perhaps never to be settled, past. William Chan now has changed from who he was ten years ago as evidenced by his journal-like entries throughout Ten Years After Iraq. Journal entries that resonate like life mottos scrawled on your bathroom mirror. That you face everyday. But we change by first recognizing that we are beings that change—by way of reminders and by way of the past. And we could all do better by recognizing that that which is right now, might be different tomorrow. “I’m sorry, we were wrong” writes Chan in closing.