Veteran combat photographer Finbarr O’Reilly, on assignment in Afghanistan, and Sgt. Thomas James Brennan of the U.S. Marine Corps struck up a friendship in one of the world’s most hostile environments, amid an uncertain war, the photojournalist writes in a Lens blog post.
It was 2010 and both had found themselves amid Taliban territory in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, when a grenade explosion knocked the soldier unconscious. O’Reilly made photographs of the immediate aftermath, unaware then that the event would bind the two men’s experiences in untold ways.
We don’t often discuss the issue publicly, but war correspondents experience similar rates of post-traumatic stress as combat veterans (about one in four, according to experts). The causes can be different, but guilt plays a prominent role for both. During his years in combat, Sergeant Brennan did and saw things that will haunt him forever. My own conscience is nagged by the fact that I was paid to photograph people at their most vulnerable while being able to do little to help. I took pictures of Sergeant Brennan moments after he was injured and nearly killed. Our odd alliance offered us both a shot at redemption.
The friendship developed into a collaboration, various blog posts on the war, and, eventually, a book they co-authored, “Shooting Ghosts: A U.S. Marine, a Combat Photographer, and Their Journey Back From War.”