Susan Stamberg interviewed Louie Palu about the exhibition “WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath” for NPR:
One of the best-known war pictures of all time was taken by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal in 1945. Five Marines and a Navy corpsman, raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima.
“It’s such an important and historic photograph, but I don’t know who any of those guys are,” says documentary photographer Louie Palu — who found inspiration in the iconic Rosenthal image. “I wanted to meet the guys in that photograph. I wanted to know the name, the age, how young or how old they looked. I didn’t want it to be an anonymous set of people raising a flag.”
So when Palu was embedded with troops in Afghanistan’s Helmand province in 2008, he made close-up portraits of the men. One of Palu’s portraits became the signature image of this war photography show:
It shows 31-year-old U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Carlos “OJ” Orjuela. His face, under his helmet, is caked with mud and sweat and exhaustion. He’d served in Iraq and then Afghanistan. His eyes look as if they have seen everything, and tomorrow they’ll have to see some more. His face says “I want to go home,” Palu says.