When the men died, I wanted to find them in a picture, as if seeing them right away would keep their memory from fading away.
This fall, I spent six weeks with the writer Luke Mogelson, following an élite Iraqi police unit called the Mosul swat team as its members fought to take back their city from the forces of the Islamic State. The story, which Luke wrote and I photographed, was called “The Avengers of Mosul”—the men were seeking vengeance not just for the threat to their country as a whole but also for the murders of family members by isis. Nearly every fighter had suffered this kind of loss, and many of them had family still living in peril in Mosul. The men welcomed us on their campaign, and shared with us their provisions, their blankets and mats, their seats in the trucks, and their stories.
I arrive in Ulaanbaatar after four days on the train. It’s a relief to get off and be amongst people again. The Mongolians. I feel it right away. These people are proud and strong, but they’re also caught in a strange connection between the present and the past.