Steve Mumford Interviewed by Peter Jennings on ABC

“Person of the Week Steve Mumford” / ABC News: World News Tonight / Peter Jennings / December 17, 2004

(OC) Finally this evening, our "Person of the Week." We are very aware in the news business how transitory it is. You may know the phrase, "today's newspaper is what they wrap tomorrow's fish in." In many ways, television is even more fleeting. The man we have chosen this week comes from a great wartime tradition of something more enduring than the daily news.

STEVE MUMFORD, PAINTER

I've been trying to paint or depict scenes that show some sort of dramatic narrative involving human emotions. Probably that's what attracted me to the war. In a sense, war is the ultimate dramatic human narrative, or certainly one of them.

PETER JENNINGS

(VO) Until very recently, Steve Mumford was a combat artist in Iraq. He was embedded, just like the reporters and the cameramen, with the 3rd Infantry Division out of Ft. Stewart, Georgia. When Mumford arrived in Baghdad, as a civilian, the city had already fallen to American forces. He spent a couple of days getting his bearings. Then he found the 3rd ID and approached the commander.

STEVE MUMFORD

I kind of shouted over the noise of the engines of the Bradley what I wanted to do. I told him I was an artist and, and he seemed interested. So he said, yeah, jump on. It was actually fascinating. I mean, we did everything from stopping bank robberies that were in progress to checking on other, other battalions kind of strewn around Baghdad.

PETER JENNINGS

(VO) Mumford would paint and sketch whenever the unit stopped moving. When it was too dangerous, he'd snap a quick photograph and paint when it was safe.

STEVE MUMFORD

When the battle was going on, I stayed below in the armored personnel carrier and passed up ammunition. And I took some photographs by holding the camera up, just above the lip of the carrier and photographed what I could. But basically, it was incredibly loud and quite scary.

PETER JENNINGS

(VO) As any artist will tell you, there is nothing like a sketchpad to attract the curious. In Mumford's case it has been a way to meet Iraqis.

STEVE MUMFORD

Well, I would have a small crowd of Iraqis around me, every time I would start to draw. So there was kind of an interaction between me and the people of Baghdad. Which was a lot of fun and which also led to another drawing. Usually somebody would see me and invite me over to have tea with him. And I would wind up getting about six good drawings out of a, out of a good day like that.

PETER JENNINGS

(VO) A tea house. Playing dominoes. An afternoon nap. Just waiting. A memorial service for a fallen soldier.

STEVE MUMFORD

Most people in the room were crying, eventually, including me. This is a fun one. This was the Miller Light Catfight Girls. It was a particularly difficult drawing to do because there were so many soldiers milling around.

PETER JENNINGS

(VO) Steve Mumford is part of a great tradition. Every country that has gone to war has had its combat artists. The British, the Russians, the French, the Canadians. Mumford was influenced by Winslow Homer, who became famous during the Civil War. During World War I and World War II, there were many, many artists. Today you can see their work in any number of museums and galleries. But gradually, as a category of artists, they were largely replaced by combat photographers.

STEVE MUMFORD

Partly what I would like to do is help revive an interest in that. Because I think that art can bring a great deal that photography can't.

PETER JENNINGS

(VO) After ten and a half months in-country, Steve Mumford, who's originally from Boston and has been drawing since he was a child, felt it was time to go home.

STEVE MUMFORD

The security situation in Baghdad was deteriorating. It was harder and harder to leave the hotel. I felt increasingly like I was being watched.

PETER JENNINGS

(VO) Today, at home in New York City, he is finishing some of the work he started there. In every way, he says, it was an extraordinary experience.

STEVE MUMFORD

I didn't know what I was going to find when I got to Iraq, but I certainly found a lot of, a lot of subject matter that I think I'm going to be chewing over for years to come.

PETER JENNINGS

(VO) And so we choose Steve Mumford, who helps us see a difficult war from yet another perspective.

PETER JENNINGS

(OC) Someone asked what motivated him to go to Iraq. About a year ago, he was working on a Vietnam painting from a photograph. He was too young for Vietnam. And he suddenly thought, so he says, why do this when I can paint the real thing? He kept a journal when he was in Iraq. And his writing and his painting can be seen at artnet.com.

PETER JENNINGS

(OC) That's our report on "World News Tonight." We hope you have a good weekend. I'm Peter Jennings. Good night.

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