Excerpted from the Summer/Fall 2011 issue of North Carolina Conversations
Goldsboro residents Sarah Merritt and Becca Scott Reynolds worked together at the Arts Council of Wayne County. Reynolds, who grew up on a family farm in Goldsboro, has called the city home nearly her whole life, and Merritt settled in Goldsboro in 1998, when her husband MSgt. Jeffrey Merritt was stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Sarah Merritt, executive director of the Arts Council, and Reynolds, gallery director and independent photographer, collaborated on A Country, A People, a comprehensive project partly funded by the North Carolina Humanities Council that featured an exhibit of photographs by U.S. Air Force members in Afghanistan. With A Country, A People and its companion programs, Merritt and Reynolds sought to bond two communities living close but separate lives in the same small North Carolina town.
Though Seymour Johnson Air Force Base is within walking distance from the center of Goldsboro, service members seem to function as “a country in and of themselves,” Reynolds says. That disconnect, and the stories and photos she encountered from her husband’s deployment, inspired Merritt to create A Country, A People. With support from Humanities Council Advisory Board member and Goldsboro native Ed Borden and the guidance of associate director Harlan J. Gradin, the project opened in January 2011.
A Country, A People offered ways to see Afghanistan through the eyes of American military. Exhibit visitors saw photographs shot in sepia on treks along arid terrain, the dust from the troop’s boots seeming to cake the camera’s lens. They saw wide-angle shots of airmen, so tiny they’re toy-like, marching through bunkers of blindingly white snow laid beneath the massive Hindu Kush. Exhibit visitors saw photographs taken in “benign time” from a fighter jet at 25,000 feet altitude. The seasonal incarnations of Afghanistan’s landscape — white peaks against a flannel sky and mountain ranges umber with the day’s heat — these images are humbling enough to make you forget, for a moment, the reality of war. The photographs sharp with razor wire help you remember.
View more photographs and read about full project details at www.nchumanities.org/galleries/country-people