“Rowing for Shore with Sinking Ships All Around” tells the story of Sergeant Jacob B. who joined the army at age 18. During his time in Iraq, Jacob rekindled a relationship with his childhood friend and high school sweetheart, Heidi, on the website Myspace. They became engaged. Two weeks before Jacob’s unit was scheduled to return home, two of his best friends were killed when a roadside bomb exploded during a night mission. On that fateful night, Jacob had traded places with one of the men who was killed, opting to ride in the rear instead of his usual position as a gunner in the lead scout vehicle. This devastating loss, compounded by the stress of war and unresolved family issues catapulted Jacob over the edge. As his depression resurfaced, Jacob began to suffer the symptoms of severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Discharged in the spring of 2007, but failing to receive adequate care and treatment at the Veterans Administration Hospital, Jacob committed suicide in December that year at the age of 26.
This series puts a personal, human face on the subject of PTSD, and the difficulties so many U.S. soldiers face readjusting to civilian life after returning home from a combat zone. Fragments of Jacob’s poems and blog entries are used as titles for the images, providing a portal into his mind and thoughts. We witness a downward spiral as Jacob attempts to reconcile his personal and wartime experiences, survivors’ guilt, and recurring nightmares. By combining Jacob’s drawings and texts with photographs I took his hometown, we see and hear Jacob and for a moment, share the enormity of his experience.
Cynthia Bittenfield (NYC) received her BA in Photography from Columbia College (Chicago, IL). She is a grant recipient from the School of Visual Arts in NYC, where she received her MFA in Photography, Video, and Related Media. She holds a Masters of Education in Instructional Technology from the University of Illinois. She has been exhibited in the Gallery 110, Photography Center Northwest, and the Frye Museum, all in Seattle, WA, as well as at the Houston Center of Photography (TX), and at the Newspace Center for Photography (Portland, OR).