The photographer David Hempenstall (b.1979, Melbourne, Australia) travelled to Iraq in mid 2005. He was commissioned to photograph the excavation of mass graves and the resulting forensic analysis of the recovered individuals. His photographs were presented in a number of proceedings including the Anfal trial of prominent Ba’athists such as Saddam Hussein and Ali Hassan al-Majid.

When not in the field Hempenstall lived next to the Forensic Analysis Facility on the outer edge of Camp Slayer, a small US military base attached to the large Victory/Liberty complex on the outskirts of Baghdad. Slayer had a number of Presidential Palaces and lakes within its boundaries that the Ba’athists had previously used for both work and leisure. The occupying forces had taken over this area and were using the existing buildings and architectural features for housing and as work areas.

During the brief periods of personal time available Hempenstall made his own pictures while exploring his immediate surrounds. Hempenstall had originally carried a small SX-70 Polaroid camera with him to make small diary pictures documenting people and places that stood in front of his view camera. He soon responded to the small prints ejected from the handheld machine and began a period free from the tripod and large camera that had dominated his practice for the few years immediately prior to the Iraq commission.

Camp Slayer is made up of 165 original Time Zero prints.

Hempenstall left Iraq in early 2007 and continues to work on commissioned and personal photographic projects.

“Viewed together, this series of photographic fragments seems to allude to a bigger picture – the idea of war itself – that is both too complex and horrific to comprehend and to picture clearly.”

Mr Stephen Zagala. Curator, Monash Gallery of Art

“Eschewing the politicisation and dramatism of war photography, these tightly framed photographs capture mere snippets of the pragmatic, everyday details: tyre prints in dust, a fuel drum, the rusted wall of a shipping container. But what makes them so effective is what they choose not to disclose. A crudely laid concrete path leads to nowhere; the entrance to a nylon tent remains securely zipped. These snapshots, crops and abstractions act as evidence of something much greater and more sinister.”

Mr Dan Rule. Critic, The Age

“These small-scale Polaroid photographs are truly compelling. Hempenstall shocks us with his attention to detail — the small things that describe a personal response to a very harsh military environment. And as American troops withdraw from Iraq, it is a perfect time for us to consider the Coalition’s occupation of the country and its legacy.”

Dr Shaune Lakin. Director, Monash Gallery of Art