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GOOD Q&A: Chad Cress

One college student ditched class to photograph Iraq. Chad Cress is an aspiring photographer in his senior year at Biola University in La Mirada, California. Last fall, while his classmates were preparing for final exams, he and some friends hopped into a plane and flew to Iraq. It was a chance opportunity,..


One college student ditched class to photograph Iraq.Chad Cress is an aspiring photographer in his senior year at Biola University in La Mirada, California. Last fall, while his classmates were preparing for final exams, he and some friends hopped into a plane and flew to Iraq. It was a chance opportunity, and it resulted in a series of photos that show a side of Iraq we rarely see. GOOD got a hold of Mr. Cress hear his take on the experience and a bit of back story on the disarmingly tender images he brought back with him.GOOD: How does a college student end up flying to Iraq?CHAD CRESS: One of my good friends does films around the world on social injustice, specifically related to children. We were having lunch with some friends and he was going to film in Iraq but didn't have a photographer, and he just said, "Well, why don't you go?" This was a week and a half before he was going to leave for the trip. It was right before finals. But I had to do this. So I talked to my teachers. I said, "This is what I'm doing. Are you on board with it? I'm willing to take a grade reduction." So we proceeded to buy tickets.G: What were your expectations as you headed over?CC: We didn't have any, to be honest. We had our preconceived ideas of what it would be like, and we went over with some places to stay and a list of loose contacts-we knew some people who knew some people who knew some people-but, every day, we were waking up asking, "What are we going to find today?"G: So, what did you find?CC: People. We talked to people in trash dumps and we talked to religious leaders. We talked to the sheiks at mosques, deputies from Baghdad, and a couple of gentlemen that run an NGO that does whatever it can to help orphans that have been created since the occupation. We also did filming and photography for an organization called Preemptive Love, which does heart surgeries for children.G: Were people receptive to being photographed? CC: Yes. People wanted their photos taken. People wanted to tell their stories. We were welcomed with open arms and meals. People wouldn't let us pay for taxis sometimes, I think, because we wanted to tell their stories in a good light. We weren't looking for propaganda; we were just looking to say, "Hey, we want to tell what good is going on here, as well as the bad." Just the fact that we were over there was astonishing to a lot of [the Iraqis].G: What do you take away from the experience? CC: I've been thinking about that a lot. I think I can understand the conflict a little better. And the dead Iraqis, the orphans... that was something that I came away with, the heaviness and the burden of that. We'd talk about America. Do you want us here? Do you want us gone? Some people love America; some people hate us, but everyone can agree that they're just tired of death. But, I can't say, "Hey, I went to Iraq. This is how it is there. This is what we should be doing." I'm just a fortunate college kid who went to Iraq and took some photographs. But the people in the photographs ... you should check them out because their story is unique. And their story isn't being told.Below, Chad shares the stories behind some of his photos.

This is a school out in a rural area out in the middle of nowhere in a desert. It's just a little brick building. The kids are running toward school at the end of recess.

This boy was with his father on the way to that school. His father is a shepherd and was really proud of his son, so he asked if we could take a photo of him. Just kind of an early morning on the way to school.

That's in the city. We were just going to the mosque and were back in a slum, though this guy wasn't a poor man. I asked if I could take his photo and [that made him] quite happy.

They have these guys stationed every ten feet and they all have AK-47s, but everyone said, ‘Do not photograph the military.' Most of them are very standoffish. But I had to get one of him. After I snuck these photos, he smiled and started telling us about his family and asking us to take more.

We visited a family with a son who had Down Syndrome and who had gotten heart surgery. The filmmaker we went with had also had heart surgeries, so he was able to connect with the kids. This is the boy's sister, who was taking us to her father's shop, acting like she didn't like the camera, then putting on a show for us and posing.

We went to this prison called The Red Room that Saddam set up basically to torture his people. It looks like people left yesterday-there were bloodstains and scratch marks on the wall. When we were leaving, there was this one rose literally growing out of the concrete. It was such a symbolic image: In the midst of all this conflict there's still such life and beauty.

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