Sean Huolihan was a soldier before he became a photographer. In fact, he is Communications Section Chief Huolihan of the Wisconsin National Guard. His military career took a slight turn, however, when he got his hands on a Nikon D90. He found himself a new passion, a passion that he later would later take on as a career after his service.
While he was stationed in Afghanistan, he volunteered as the historian for his unit. Sean tells the Phoblographer that this same unit that motivated him pick up a DSLR.
“Photography in the military is often a cellphone and point-and-shoot camera affair. I wanted to do something different, raise the bar. The unit I served with — Battery B, 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery Regiment, a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) unit — raised that bar through the roof regarding the perception and reality of what a National Guard Battery could do, and I wanted my photographs of the experience to reflect that. Every commander is going to say that his guys are the best, but my captain at the time, Capt. Matthew Mangerson, truly did have the best of the Wisconsin Army National Guard.”
As you can imagine, it was not the easiest undertaking. According to him,
“My initial goal for the year was to capture the everyday life of the unit, but due to where we were stationed, I was unable to do that. So I had to focus on what I could capture and not let the shift in my intentions bug me. The challenges capturing many of the shots were everywhere — 70 mph dust storms in Texas during training, limitations where one could shoot photos “in country,” the constant flights all over Afghanistan.”
Despite that, many of the images he captured during that time are perhaps some of the most interesting war photographs we’ve ever come across. Sean’s photographs radiate a certain quiet, almost peaceful mood, which he juxtaposed against the many elements of war – rocket artilleries, soldiers in their fatigues, helicopters in flight. They bring into focus, somehow, the calmer side of warfare, which we don’t see that often.
There are no tragic losses or desolation or wretched imagery in Sean’s series. Only impressive landscapes, slumbering soldiers trying to keep warm, and artilleries laying silent under the starry desert sky.
“It’s hard to pinpoint one inspiration behind the images, but as far as disseminating and motivating myself to put those images out there I’d have to say the 1500 QA blog by Zack Arias was huge. It has inspired me big time to get out and chase the career that I wanted. Now that my deployment time is over, I have signed up for another six years with the Wisconsin Army National Guard, so my military shooting isn’t quite over yet — just tremendously slowed down. With all the excitement of Afghanistan behind me, I am now eager to find the next big thrilling event to capture.”