Q&A: Keith Yahrling — What Was Lost At Fort Sill


Have you recently been living by any life philosophy? It isn’t something I’ve started recently, but I’ve never been the type of person that remains content for very long. My curiosity and my desire for new adventures tends to keep me moving. What will baffle future generations about our day and age? Maybe with the way things are heading, our day and age will look quaint and calm to those in the future. But I suppose that assumes things will continue down an ever more crazed and wild path, which I really hope it doesn’t. Are you aware of any conspiracies? Sure, there are plenty out there, but it is probably best not to perpetuate them. What is it that interests you about photography? There are many reasons I’m interested in Photography. But perhaps the strongest is the fact that photography gives you an ultimate pass to explore what ever aspect of the world you’re most interested in. What is the worst thing about city life? I live in Philadelphia, and like other big cities, we are currently going through a crazy construction boom. So I’d prefer it if I didn’t have to lecture contractors on the reasons why they can’t plug their extensions cords into my outside outlets and steal my electricity. But ultimately it is a place that is familiar and is a place that I truly do love. What part of the planet would you like to explore? For my most recent project, I’ve photographed on an army base in Oklahoma that my father was stationed at before he deployed to the Vietnam War. I’ve been devouring a lot of books and archival material from that time. My father fought around Saigon, mostly in Tây Ninh Province in South Vietnam. So I’d love to experience that landscape one day. What do you think is the most plausible of the supernatural? I suppose anything is possible, but I can’t say that I’m on board with any supernatural powers existing.

If you had to align yourself with a leader in history, who would it be? I’m not sure if I would necessarily align myself with any prior leader. I think words matter tremendously, so I’ve been missing President Obama’s poise and lyricism lately. Pick a field of science to be an expert within. I’d go with lepidopterology, which is the study of butterflies and moths. When I was a kid, my grandfather taught me how to find monarch eggs in the wild and raise them to butterflies to be released back into the wild. I started doing it again this summer, and it is a wonderful and beautiful thing to experience. Plus, their population is in danger from climate change and pesticides, so I’m just trying to do my part. What moment have you most wished you’d had a camera when you hadn’t? This will probably sound crazy, but my method of making pictures is pretty much all or nothing. I tend to set aside an entire day or even a week or two week that are just structured around making pictures. When I’m not in that zone, I don’t really think about the moments I’ve missed. Choose a job you would be willing to do for free on the side. I recently spent a week in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. The Appalachian Mountain Club runs a series of high mountain huts in the park. For the view alone, I’d totally work a summer for free as a cook in one of the huts. Describe the most important photo you’ve seen. The photograph by Malcolm Browne of a monk self immolating is just an unreal image in visual terms and as an illustration for what a person will do for change. How often do you take other people’s advice? Not as often as I probably should. Describe a personal hell. Definitely being injured or anything that just slows me down. Which living person do you most admire? I’m not sure I could settle on just one individual. I’m constantly inspired by the work my friends and peers do and they help to keep me motivated.

On what occasion do you lie? I don’t think a little white lie hurts every now and again. What was the last crime you witnessed? I walked past a woman who didn’t pick up after her dog. I think that’s technically a crime, or at least it should be. What is the best way to educate yourself? Read and get out into the world and see what you find. What is the next book you want to read? I’ve been meaning to reread Dispatches, by Michael Herr. Ultimate camera? I almost made the jump to 8×10 in 2012 and I still think about it every so often. In many ways I’m glad I stuck with 4×5, but an Ebony 8×10 would sure be nice. Most used camera? From about 2008 to 2016, I photographed only with a Toyoview VX125 4×5, but in 2016 I also started using a Mamiya 7II. What object do you want? I’d love a raised sprinter van to take on trips and off road adventures. What object do you need? I definitely need to restock on some film. How would you explain the internet to someone from the 1950’s? A bunch of people arguing, buying and liking things. Are you satisfied with your level of physical strength? Maybe? This seems like a trick question. Describe a cheap thrill. A good, long run does the trick, as does a road trip to an unexplored place. Pick an historic moment from the last hundred years to bring a camera to. Definitely Dylan going electric at the Newport Folk Fest in 1965. Are impulses more important than consequences? If you would have asked me this questions 15 year ago, my answer definitely would have been yes. But I think these days, my answer is no. Which talent would you most like to have? I’ve always wanted to play the drums, but I never picked it up. What is your plan for the next 24 hours? Sleep, eat, run, work, teach, repeat.

…Something was lost, but it wasn’t ours,
and if not here, we’d only have lost it
somewhere else. The young always do.
That is why we remember the young
who die too soon to lose
anything but their lives.
They will always believe the world
is simple, and they only die once…

W.D. Ehrhart. “Finding My Old Battalion Command Post.” Beautiful Wreckage, New & Selected Poems

Along the Wichita Mountains in Southwest Oklahoma is Fort Sill, a sprawling Army base that was first settled in 1869 during the American Indian Wars. A hundred years later, in 1969, my father, still a teenager, was stationed here for field artillery training before deploying to Vietnam.

Nearly 50 years later, young soldiers train at Fort Sill in much the same way they did when my father was there. Looking at the cyclical actions of current soldiers, What Was Lost At Fort Sill uses their experiences to reimagine my father’s time on base. In an effort to find what my father lost so many years ago, I have put myself along side soldiers who are learning the very same techniques, on the same weapons, and in the same landscape my father witnessed.

For my father and the men and women training there now, Fort Sill is only the entry point into a world of loss. Eventually, they will accumulate a loss of youth, of time, of innocence, of freedom, of individuality, and for some, the ultimate loss, life.

Keith Yahrling — Born 1985 in Camden, NJ, currently works and resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. To see more of Keith’s work visit — Website / Instagram.