War is where heroes are made, or so the story goes. In a self-conscious attempt to align his career path with the blazing trajectory of Winslow Homer, Steve Mumford launched his Baghdad Journal project in the summer of 2003. Sponsored by Artnet’s magazine feature, Baghdad Journal consists of sixteen dated and illustrated entries, records of Mumford’s travels in Iraq between August 2003 and December 2004. Each entry contains Mumford’s diary-style writing, illustrated by twenty or so scanned reproductions of his watercolors. Mumford’s scenes are deliberately chosen to challenge our expectations of war – the boundaries of the battleground are unclear, and there is little overt representation of violence. Instead, Mumford depicts the everyday reality of 21st-century war: the tedium of soldiers passing time at base, the efforts of ordinary Iraqis to continue the routines of urban life. But although Mumford’s project may seem anti-heroic, the idea of the lone male hero remains remarkably persistent throughout his sketches and writings, revealing how difficult it is to separate the age-old myth of the hero from an attempt to represent the realities of war.
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