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 Combat photographer brings war photos to SRU for lecture, workshops 




January 29, 2008

Contact: K.E. Schwab  




Combat photographer brings war photos to SRU for lecture, workshops


     SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Forty powerful and dramatic photographs from the streets of Iraq and Afghanistan will be displayed in Slippery Rock University's University Union Feb. 7-13 when Russell Lee Klika, a Marine Corps and National Guard combat photographer, brings his works to campus for a series of lectures and workshops.

     The photo exhibition opens following 1st Sgt. Klika's 12:30 p.m. Feb. 7 public lecture in the Advanced Technology and Science Hall. While on campus, Klika will visit art, Army ROTC and communication classes. His lecture will include details about life in Iraq as well as information about photography.

     The campus visit was arranged by Richard Wukich, SRU art professor who met the photographer in 2006 while promoting his ceramic water purification filters project outside Baghdad. "He was along with our military escorts and after I saw his photographs, I was blown away," Wukich said. "We lost touch, but later reconnected, and he agreed to visit SRU." 

     Klika, now an operation warrior trainer for First Army and a public affairs specific trainer teaching combat photography at Camp Atterbury (Edinburgh, Ind.), has been shooting photographs most of his adult life. He joined the Marines at age 17 and said his entry into photography was a fluke. "It was an impromptu purchase of a 35mm camera that got me shooting." 

     Klika was soon documenting unit training and working with the military's public affairs office. He attended the Eddie Adams Experience in Photojournalism workshop and was soon a combat photographer. He left the military and worked as a newspaper photographer on both the East and West coasts, earning more than 50 first-place honors in competition. 

     He returned to military service in the National Guard in 2003. He most recently earned First Place in the portrait/personality category of the Military Photographer of the Year competition. "The Army tells me I'm more valuable here than in the field. I'm teaching others to be storytellers with their cameras and it's great to see my students learn and grow. But it is such an honor to be the eyes and ears for the guys on the front lines," Klika said.

      "When I'm in the field, I work hard to edit and caption the photos, and get them to their first sergeants as quickly as possible. Within 24 hours of going out on a mission, the troops have photos showing what they do. It means a lot for these soldiers to be able to send those images home and share what they're doing with their friends and family."

     Klika believes military photographers not only document wars and battles, but also preserve and humanize historical events. Photographers who capture images in war-torn regions often endure the same hardships and experience the same risks as the warriors they are photographing. 

     "On my two tours in Iraq, my primary mission has been to be a photographer," Klika said. "I do the traditional public affairs stuff � the 'grip-and-grins,' changes-of-command, promotion ceremonies � that sort of stuff. The units that go outside the wire are not obligated to take me with them. These guys go looking for, and find, trouble on a daily basis. I have to earn their trust and prove myself, because they have to give up a seat to take me along. They'll provide me with protection. My Marine background helps me relate to them. I think they know how much I respect their discipline." 

     Like a marksman, Klika said he teaches his students to wait for the shot. "I don't pose any of my photographs," he said. "I just wait for them to happen. Many of the photos I took on humanitarian missions in the Kurdish villages of Iraq are really portraits, and to be honest, I didn't know I had it in me. The Iraqis are curious people, and I knew they'd turn and look at me. I just had to wait. The kids," he said, "are like kids anywhere. They'd often ham it up for the camera."

     His Web site ( shows his work, including images taken during his Iraqi tours. In 2004, he accompanied the 278th Regimental Combat Team of the Tennessee Army National Guard to Iraq, serving as a member of the public affairs staff. In 2006, he returned to Iraq, this time with the 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment of the Tennessee Army National Guard. During his second tour, he worked with the 101st Airborne's 3rd Division Rakkasans, a unit in which Klika's 21-year-old son, Zachary, serves.

     The SRU art department, as part of a special project, is collecting photos from faculty, staff, students and alumni who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The photos will be considered for inclusion on a Web site exhibition. Those interested in submitting photos are asked to contact Capt. Stefan Bandas in the Army ROTC department via e-mail at:

     Klinka's campus visit is sponsored by SRU's Martha Gault Art Gallery, the SRU Art Club, the SRU art department and the SRU Student Government Association. 


Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.



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