By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
March 19, 2010 - A former White House staff photographer who started photographing Iraq in 2003 said yesterday that comparing old images to recent ones presents a picture of staggering economic growth there. Tina Hager snapped her first photo of Baghdad from Air Force One while accompanying then-President George W. Bush on a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to meet with U.S. troops. A few years later, she moved to Dubai as a freelance photographer documenting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. On several assignments, she embedded with U.S. troops.
"I felt it was my photographic obligation after seeing history unfold at the very top to be able to continue to photograph the same situation, the same subject matter at ground level," Hager said during a "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable.
In 2009, Hager started working as a photographer for the Defense Department's task force for business and stability operations in Iraq. She said the assignment has given her access to record scenes of everyday life throughout the nation.
"In 2006 flying over Iraq, it was dusty, it was colorless. And now you fly over, and it's just the fertile crescent."
In addition to revitalized farmlands, Hager said, she's photographed hundreds of new factories and businesses that are generating employment. Women, she observed, not only are part of the work force, but also are dominating the top ranks of the banking industry.
Today, she said, the landscape of Iraq looks like "a big green ocean" of agricultural success and factories that make everything from tractors to carpets based on classic patterns.
When a blogger participating in the conference call asked Hager whether she might be biased as a task force staff photographer, she said her job simply is to observe and photograph the subject matter.
"I get a great sense of satisfaction to encourage investment and economic stability in Iraq, and that is for me the most interesting way for me to help," she explained.
A chronological slideshow of Hager's photographs of Iraq is available on DoDLive.mil. Hager said she hopes to publish these images, along with others, in a book to create a permanent record of the transformation.
"I hope that people who contributed to this effort can see the progress that's been made in Iraq," she said. Hager added that she will return to Iraq next month and continue to photograph the nation's comeback.