Thomas Roma's print project published in 2009 by the Neiman Center, presents a powerful visual dialogue between two seemingly disparate themes of the war experience - innocence and experience. The suite of ten photogravures, juxtaposes five portraits of soldiers going off to combat with five images of coin-operated horse rides found on the streets of Brooklyn, NYC.
The soldiers were photographed in the early morning hours of January 2004 in the Jamaica Armory, Queens, NYC. The men were being deployed to the Iraq Theater of Operations. These soldiers were from the Army National Guardsmen of the 1st Battalion, 258th Field Artillery Regiment of the 42nd Infantry "Rainbow" Division. A history of this unit of guardsmen is found on an informative sheet which comes with the portfolio.
"The 258th Field Artillery traces its origins to the "Washington Greys" of the Revolutionary War. First organized in 1809, their unit insignia (which can be seen on their berets) is the Washington family coat of arms. Previous to the Iraq deployment, they had served in the War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, and were among the first on the scene at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The Rainbow Division was created when America entered the First World War in 1917 by combining National Guard units from twenty-six states and the Destrict of Columbia. Colonel Douglas McArthur, who helped form the division, is quoted as saying "the 42nd Division stretches like a rainbow from one end of America to the other," inspiring their nickname...In World War II, they were the first in their corps to enter Germany in March 1945, and on April 29 forward elements of the Rainbow Division were among those who liberated the Dachau Concentration Camp."
In this set of prints, the juxtaposition of portraits of the young soldiers, mostly minority, compared with the images of still horse rides, pinpoints the harsh reality of war's repercussions on youth and how it perpetuates the state of lost innocence. The horses are riderless, caught in a constant mode of ready entertainment - offering to extend youth's capricious amusement. These images contrast starkly with Roma's soldiers, who have seemingly just dismounted from their childhood pasts. They stand ready for the challenge of their adult lives as participants in combat and war. Their expressions, captured in the photographer's lens, show anticipation, fear and resolute knowledge of what they will soon face, the possibility of their own mortality. They will soon be flown far from their homes, neighborhoods and childhood years.
Thomas Roma is a photographer who lives in Brooklyn, NY. He has served as Professor of Art and Director of Photography at the School of the Arts, Columbia University, since 1996. Roma has twice received Guggenheim Fellowships and his photographs have appeared in solo and group exhibitions internationally, including one-person exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and the International Center for Photography, New York. His books include: Found in Brooklyn, Come Sunday, Sunset Park, Higher Ground, Enduring Justice, Show & Tell, Sanctuary, Sicilian Passage, In Prison Air, On Three Pillars, and House Calls with William Carlos Williams (with Dr. Robert Coles).