This Combat Camera veteran used his skills to launch a civilian career as a photojournalist


CLEVELAND, Ohio – There was a bit of irony in Bill Putnam’s first job as a civilian who had just left the military: he was sent back to Iraq to cover the war, the same place where he had honed his skills. skills as a photographer for the US military.

“Before I left the military, I knew I wanted to specialize in topical photojournalism,” Putnam says. “I have met a lot of people along the way who have seen my work and told me that I have the motivation and the talent to do it in the civilian world. It was about reaching out to people and meeting the right people at the right time. “

Among the “good people” that Putnam met along the way was Michael Ware, Time director of the magazine’s office in Baghdad.

“When I was a soldier returning from Iraq, I ran into Michael,” Putnam says. “I was coming out of the army and told him I was ready to go back to Iraq. He wrote a letter on my behalf and it helped make it happen.

Putnam explains, “This one was done quite early in the morning after a raid that lasted all night. The unit, Centurion Company, 2-1 Infantry, had been dispatched with a sci-fi team and an Iraqi Army group to hunt down a car builder bomb. They didn’t find him. This was at the start of the unit’s deployment (these were the guys who were extended for three months in 2006 during an early and less effective “push” into northwest Baghdad). To me that says a lot, not really about this war, but just about war in general, especially war at the tip of the spear. Hunter, the guy in the picture, just looks exhausted. War is exactly that – exhausting in every way – but it is physical exhaustion. The kid waving the gun (it was unloaded) was actually playing with a newly installed laser pointer. (Photo: Bill Putnam)

After working in the war zone for almost a year, he returned to the United States and freelance work from Washington, DC to Oregon, diversifying his portfolio and expanding his network. Eventually he was picked up by the Zuma News Agency, and the Missions began to come up with a more regular clip.

To date, his photos have been published in The Washington Post, Boston Globe, News week, Army time, Oregonian, Colombian journalism review, The New Republic, NPR.org and digitaljournalist.org. Her work also appeared in the Oscar nominated documentary “Operation Homecoming: Writing The Wartime Experience”.

He opened a solo exhibition of 40 copies of his Afghan work entitled “Abu in Bermel: Faces of Battle” in February 2011 at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. This exhibit was transferred to Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Pa., In April 2011. Her work has also been included in group exhibitions at Glen Echo Photo Works in Glen Echo, Maryland, and at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland. . , Texas. Life as a civilian photographer was quite different from life in the military, but his hard work paid off.

This Combat Camera veteran used his skills to launch a civilian career as a photojournalist

“It’s really all about the turmoil,” he says. “You have to hurry to make this transition. You have to constantly be on the phone with people, you have to constantly be thinking about new projects and what you want to do next.

And that kind of proactive stance brought him to Cleveland to cover the Republican National Convention for Verify Media, a new agency specializing in video to mobile devices. At the same time, Putnam has his classic 4×5 camera, which he uses to capture the atmosphere surrounding the Zuma convention.

Putnam is a towering figure – tall and bearded – but he possesses a laid back demeanor and calm demeanor that allows him to blend in with the background – a highly desirable attribute for a photojournalist. As he watches the scene along Fourth Street, Cleveland’s famous promenade lined with bars and restaurants, he’s barely noticed even though he’s a head taller than the crush of delegates, experts, TV personalities, protesters and ordinary civilians around him.

Watching Putnam in action, it’s obvious that he enjoys his job. He moves through the crowd with an easy gait, taking everything in, both through the weeds and aware of the bigger picture. But for all his apparent satisfaction with his choice of career, he’s quick to note that getting to where he is has been a series of hotly contested rejections and missteps. He points out that, unlike the military, pursuing an unorthodox civilian career is often a non-linear proposition.

“When I came back from the war, I was stunned that I had to find it all on my own,” Putnam says. “I like to go out and do stuff, but to get from point A to point B, I didn’t know how to do that.”

Faced with this reality, Putnam said, “You just have to do it and I hope you find the right path. “

This Combat Camera veteran used his skills to launch a civilian career as a photojournalist
Captain Adam Lackey, commander of Abu Company and a tribal sheikh at a meeting outside of Bayji, Iraq, May 6, 2006. (Photo: Bill Putnam)

To learn more about Putnam’s work, visit his website here.

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