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Ex-SEAL’s photos speak volumes

Humanitarian, Rhodes Scholar Eric Greitens to speak tonight

“Strength & Compassion: Photographs by Eric Greitens” will be on display at the Fort Lewis College Art Gallery through Oct. 12. About the photograph of babies in an orphanage in Albania behind him, Greitens said, “What struck me was that it was so quiet. They were so used to nobody responding that they didn’t even cry anymore.” Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

“Strength & Compassion: Photographs by Eric Greitens” will be on display at the Fort Lewis College Art Gallery through Oct. 12. About the photograph of babies in an orphanage in Albania behind him, Greitens said, “What struck me was that it was so quiet. They were so used to nobody responding that they didn’t even cry anymore.”

The photographs on the walls of the Fort Lewis College Art Gallery portray despair, fear and desperate poverty. They are gripping images of refugees in Rwanda and Bosnia, street children in Bolivia, maimed children in Cambodia and the old and destitute in India.

But the black-and-white shots also show something else.

“The photos we see in the news or on charitable organizations’ literature show absolutely horrific misery,” said the photographer of those images, Eric Greitens. He is in Durango this week to speak about his book, The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL, which is the Common Reading Experience selection at FLC this year. “I wanted to show a balanced view because what hasn’t been conveyed was the dignity, and even joy.”

About 50 people gathered at the FLC Art Gallery on Wednesday night for a fundraiser to support student projects in the School of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. The focus was on the images, collected during several years from Greitens’ work around the world on a variety of humanitarian missions, which came mainly from Greitens’ other book, Strength and Compassion.

Discussion ranged from the composition and style of his photography to the stories behind the images.

“Because I was using black-and-white film, I didn’t even know what I had until it was developed,” he said. “I’m not a landscape photographer, I just try to be in places where there’s a relationship between me and the people. I’m just a guy with a camera.”

Much has been made of Greitens’ résumé. A graduate of Duke University, he was selected to be a Rhodes Scholar. He earned a doctorate from Oxford University after writing his thesis on “Children First,” which analyzed the effects of war on children.

His life took a detour after a conversation with a man in a refugee camp in Bosnia.

“‘If people really cared about us, they’d do something to protect us,’” Greitens quoted the man as saying. “So, at 26, I realized that if I cared enough to help, I cared enough to protect.”

An enlistment in the Navy and qualifying as a SEAL followed. After deployments to Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, the Horn of Africa and Iraq, and earning a number of medals, including a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, Greitens now teaches, lectures and works with a foundation he created, The Mission Continues. The continuing mission is to help veterans of the war on terrorism to serve and lead in their communities stateside.

Greitens has learned a lot of lessons from his experiences, including that courage comes in different forms. When he was younger, he thought of it as a single moment of bravery and heroism.

“But the powerful kind of courage comes in building a family, building a community, building a business in impossible circumstances, in doing the hard thing day after day after day,” he said

In Rwanda, where one of the most violent genocides of the 20th century took place, he saw what it took to risk one’s own life to save another.

“They always had a story,” Greitens said. “Whether it was from faith, from their community or their family history, they saw themselves as standing in a deeper and wider current of people standing up to protect other people.”

And he has a thought for all of us on the importance of service to country.

“All the weight of the last 11 years has been on 1 percent of the population,” Greitens said. “In the history of nations and empires, it only takes one generation that doesn’t want to serve for it all to come tumbling down.”

abutler@durangoherald.com

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