The Digital Journalist
February 2007

by David Holloway

I've avoided going to Iraq. I couldn't think of anything that I could do there that hadn't already been done. I have been very conscious of not wanting to be a content provider, but hoping to work on something unique. A lot of the work coming out of Iraq, I felt, had begun to look the same and I couldn't come up with a story there that was really interesting to me so I tried to focus on other work.

Eugene Edgerton of the Harlem Globetrotters meets with flight crews of Blackhawk helicopters at FOB Sykes in Tal Afar, Iraq, on Nov. 30, 2006.

Photo by David S. Holloway/Getty Images for the Harlem Globetrotters

Jermaine Brown, a Harlem Globetrotter, gives an impromptu slam dunk demonstration to a group of troops on an outdoor basketball court at Camp Warrior in Kirkuk, Iraq, on Dec. 2, 2006, as part of the Globetrotter 21-day tour to 12 different U.S. military bases in the Middle East.

Photo by David S. Holloway/Getty Images for the Harlem Globetrotters
The first is of Eugene "Killer" Edgerson climbing out of the seat of a Blackhawk helicopter at FOB Sykes near Tal Afar, Iraq. The sun was going down and the 10 members of the team were mingling with several Blackhawk crew members, climbing around on the helicopters and talking to the crews about what they do. When Eugene, who is 6' 9," climbed out of the front of one of the birds I thought it was kind of funny how the helicopter didn't look so big next to him. It all seemed so proportional. I noticed a lot that the sort of rugged oversized military look of things seemed to fit well with all of these giant guys. They didn't always fit so well inside them, but they looked really natural around them. I can imagine a world where rap stars are going to start buying Blackhawks just 'cause they are big and bad. Maybe they'll follow Hummer and make a civilian model.

Then an editor talked to me about going to the Middle East with The Harlem Globetrotters on their 21-day military entertainment tour and I couldn't think of a better reason to go.

The tour had the team visiting 12 bases, three of which were in Iraq. All of the photos I've chosen were from that part of the tour.

Harlem Globetrotter Shane Christensen poses for a photograph outside of the hangers as he and his teammates wait to leave Camp Warrior in Kirkuk, Iraq, on a C-130 headed for Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq, Dec. 2, 2006. The airport in Kirkuk was once part of Saddam Hussein's air force bases and is now an American military installation.

Photo by David S. Holloway/Getty Images for the Harlem Globetrotters
At Camp Warrior in Kirkuk, Iraq, there were a few outdoor basketball courts and I had asked Jermaine "Hi-Rise" Brown if we could go over to the court because I wanted to shoot some pics of him dunking. He has this amazing leap and so many crazy dunk variations. A few soldiers walked with us to the court and we borrowed a basketball from the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) office in the gym next to the courts. As Jermaine was warming up, more soldiers stopped to watch and I was really taken by the fact that dressed in his red warm-up suit, he looked like a target and the soldiers were just walking around with weapons - the troops are required to keep their weapons with them at all times. It seemed a little like we were at the toughest 'hood basketball court, with everyone packin' heat, so maybe basketball in Iraq isn't quite so different from basketball in Harlem (or Chicago, or L.A. or Memphis).

Our flight out of Kirkuk was late, so we wound up standing around for a few hours at the airport on the base. The buildings were once part of Saddam Hussein's Royal Air Force. There are a lot of reminders - Arabic painted on the walls - and just near here we passed a former Iraqi Olympic training center. Waiting near the flight line, I started photographing globetrotter Shane "BeBe" Christensen clowning around with a basketball, bouncing it on his head and practicing his trick dribbling. Then he posed by this white wall; he gave me this serious face and the photo just came together. It is a sort of travel snapshot. It documents a moment in his history and the team's that will always take him back to the fact that during this war, he was there: part tourist, part entertainer.

Derek Wabbington uses transit time to read, while his Harlem Globetrotter teammate Paul Gaffney catches up on sleep as the team leaves FOB Sykes and flies south on a C-130 to Camp Warrior in Kirkuk, Iraq, on Dec. 1, 2006. This marks the third consecutive year the Globetrotters have visited U.S. troops overseas during the month of December, made possible by Navy Entertainment and Armed Forces Entertainment.

Photo by David S. Holloway/Getty Images for the Harlem Globetrotters
We were told the flight into Baghdad would be the most dangerous part of the trip. The players were required to wear flak jackets and Kevlar helmets while being transported in Iraq. We were also told that the C-130 flight in would be very uncomfortable, cramped and loud, but we'd just have to bear with it. Everyone expected the worst, but once we got onboard and strapped in, the gentle bounce of the webbing seats and the way the engines kind of hum through your earplugs had a really soothing effect. People started nodding off soon after we took off. The players usually have a pretty hectic schedule, so they try to rest wherever they can. The previous days had been long and we were running late and so some tried to relax by reading or listening to their headphones, but most everyone nodded off at some point during the trip. I kept thinking, "aren’t we supposed to be worried here?" but most of the players felt safe and comfortable enough to just drift off and wake up when we touched down. "Hey team, we're in Baghdad!!!"

I'm happy that my Iraq experience was pretty different than most of my colleagues'. There is just something fun about saying, "Yeah, I just got back from Iraq. I went with … The Harlem Globetrotters." It makes me smile every time.

© David Holloway

Coming from a long line of farmers, carpenters, truck drivers and mechanics, David S. Holloway discovered a career in photojournalism while failing to find one in skateboarding. Currently Holloway's work explores the inherent tensions of social issues such as race, poverty, violence and the struggle of working-class Americans. His work has been published in Time, Newsweek, Life, Stern, Rolling Stone and SPIN Magazine. His clients include; The Discovery Channel, The Jane Goodall Institute, CARE USA and The History Channel. Holloway was the 2005 recipient of the Getty Grant for Photography, as well as a top-five finalist for both the 2006 Dorothea Lange/Paul Taylor Prize, and the 2006 Alexia Foundation Grant. In 2006 he was awarded an honorable mention in the first New Documentarian Award for a Long-Term Project. He has received numerous awards from the White House News Photographers' Association and American Photography. He is currently based in Washington, D.C., and is available for assignments worldwide.
View David's online portfolio.

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