BY GREG ADOMAITIS Tom Hunter no longer has a crew cut. His long red hair — he calls it “civilian camouflage” — and tattoos make him look more like a habitue of the mosh pit at Lollapalooza than a member of the 173rd Airborne Division, where he served as sergeant from 2003 to 2008. He enlisted the day after he graduated from high school. Hunter became interested in documenting the days-in-the-life of his military experience, starting with a disposable camera he found on an army base and eventually upgrading to a pricey Sony DSLR. During his last tour of duty in Afghanistan he took thousands of photos, some of which are currently on display at Cerulean Arts in an exhibit called “Damn The Valley.”
PHAWKER: Was taking pictures ever anything more than a way to document your experiences?
TOM HUNTER: I didn’t think of it while I was there, it was more so for friends and family. It became almost therapeutic though. This is all really just a way for people on the outside to look in. Even now, I can’t believe it, a year ago today I was still taking photos in Afghanistan.
PHAWKER: Did you know anyone else who was shooting with higher end digital cameras?
TOM HUNTER: My friend Jeff got me into it. I went the first time in 2003 with a disposable camera that I had picked up on the base. He was showing me his Sony DSLR one day and I was just like “oh, this is digital? There is a shutter?” I was home, went to Best Buy, dropped $1,000 and was shipped off.
PHAWKER: How did your family react to you deciding to enlist right after graduating high school?
TOM HUNTER: I was a punk in high school, man, I had no direction. My father was a hippie during Vietnam so he sure as hell wasn’t going. He has probably been the most supportive of my decision though. The rest of my family has a background in the military. My grandparents on both sides served in World War II. It was a way to get out of Jersey, see the world and not just read about it in a college classroom, like “Chapter 10: Italy.”
PHAWKER: What do you make of the media’s war coverage?
TOM HUNTER: The topics on Afghanistan are growing which is good. The terrain there though really makes coverage hard. It is all mountains and then you’ve got some guy walking around with a Russian surplus weapon who wants to shoot you. It is not like Iraq at all. I still don’t understand why we went into Iraq either but whatever. It was to get these WMDs then it was to give them a democratic process.
Damn the Valley: Photographs by Tom Hunter run thru August 7 at Cerulean Arts