There were a lot of things going through the mind of Tucson native Jeremiah Ridgeway before he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2006.
Fear. Excitement. Staying alive.
Taking a photograph worthy of National Geographic wasn’t his main priority.
But it still happened.
Often weighed down by more than 60 pounds of gear, and hands almost always occupied by a rifle, the now 31-year-old college student found some of the most opportune times to snap about 7,000 photographs during a 16-month stint in Afghanistan as a cavalry scout.
One of those features an Afghani soldier hunched against a concrete wall, gun in hand, as a light snow falls.
Little did Ridgeway know at the time, but that photo would later be published in National Geographic, and would also become the subject of an Emmy-nominated interview.
The shot came during a joint mission with the Afghan National Army after they stopped in a village to rest.
“I just saw his posture, I saw the texture on the wall, the coloring, the lighting, the snow,” said Ridgeway, who comes from a family of service members. “I was looking for a candid shot, but it turned into a really powerful image with him glaring right back at me from about 20 feet away.”
Despite this and other photos receiving national attention, Ridgeway said his experience in photography prior to deployment was fairly limited.
“I’d never really messed around with photography before,” said Ridgeway. “I had one class at CDO High School, and I didn’t even take that seriously. I learned most of what I learned through film classes at Pima, from watching classics.”
That made the publication in National Geographic in 2008 all the more surprising.
“It was a shock when they said they were going to print it,” said Ridgeway, who sent photos in at the recommendation of his father, Dale.
“It was pretty cool,” Dale said. “The guy is our pride and joy. We didn’t know for sure if it would happen, but that was the goal since National Geographic is the gold standard for photography.”
During his time in Afghanistan, Ridgeway kept his camera attached to his bulletproof vest so that if an opportunity arose, he could capture the moment.
“I learned to see the images before I would take them,” said Ridgeway. “Once I saw the image in my mind, the rest was just going through the motions. It was about trying to tell a story over there.”
After finishing his term in the Army, Ridgeway enrolled in Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz, Calif. Initially, his goal was to graduate with a degree in journalism, after which he would become a combat photographer. However, many of his friends in the business advised against it due to high risk and low compensation.
Now nearing graduation, Ridgeway is focusing on a business administration degree. Though he occasionally shoots photos, he has for the most part hung up his camera.
“When you go from shooting combat to shoot pictures of cookies or whatever, there is a big difference in the story being told there,” said Ridgeway. “The whole point is to share a story with photography, and photography is made better if that story is an interesting one.”