©Inibal Abergil. From the series: N.O.K-Next Of Kin: JOHNSON “She did want a tattoo of our favorite saint before we deployed, and of course time ran short… and then it turns into whenever we were apart, the song that always rang in my head was Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone. I did it after she left so these are memorial tattoos”. “It was 2010; I proposed, but under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” if you’re caught in a marriage, pretty much, you are automatically kicked out of the army. Neither one of us wanted to lose our careers or what we do—I mean, you serve because it’s part of your heart, you serve because it’s who you are and you want to do something for your community or for your brothers and sisters, so we didn’t want to lose that”. Sgt. Donna R. Johnson, 514th Military Police Company, Killed in action October 1,2012 Afghanistan. From a conversation with Tracy Dice, Wife
Photographer Inibal Abergil has created a profound and poignant series that examines the ways in which American families memorialize their relatives killed in military conflict. Recently released as a two book set, N. O. K.- Next Of Kin, published by Daylight Books, has two parts: one featuring photographs and one containing testimonials and essays. Her project spans from 2014 to 2017, time she spent traveling the country, meeting with families to hear their stories and witness “the personal altars and private displays of mementos and objects dedicated to lost soldiers”. As Inibal states, “This response from Gold Star families must be part of the public discourse on war and its aftermath.” It’s an important testament to and recognition of the families who have suffered the travesties of war and the long term affects of loss.
In addition to Inbal Abergil, the book includes essays by Fred Ritchin, an author, curator, editor and critic. He has served as the director of the NYU/Magnum Foundation Photography and Human Rights program; cofounder and director of Pixel Press; and the founding director of the Documentary Photography and Photojournalism program of the International Center of Photography (ICP) School, where he is Dean Emeritus, Carol Becker, a writer and the Dean of Faculty and Professor of the Arts at Columbia University School of the Arts, Maurice Emerson Decaul, a former Marine, is a poet, essayist, and playwright, whose writing has been featured in the New York Times, The Daily Beast, Sierra Magazine, Epiphany and others and Stephen Mayes, the Executive Director of the Tim Hetherington Trust with 30 years experience managing the work and careers of photographers in diverse areas of fashion, art, commerce and journalism, most recently as CEO of VII photo agency.
Inbal Abergil is a visual artist and an educator, originally from Jerusalem, and the recent recipient of the prestigious Pollock-Krasner Grant for 2017. She holds an M.F.A. in Visual Art from Columbia University (2011), and received a B.F.A. with honors from the Midrasha School of Art (2007).
Her work has been exhibited internationally in museum and gallery exhibitions at Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery, NYC, Jeonju Photo Festival, South Korea, Shulamit Gallery Venice, California, and most recently at Aperture Gallery, NYC. Abergil’s work can be found in public collections like the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Fisher Landau Center For Art, Long Island City, and Haaretz Collection, Tel-Aviv. Abergil is an Assistant professor of Photography at Pace University.
©Inbal Abergil, NOK Cover
© Inbal Abergil, NOK Cover
©Inbal Abergil, NOK Cover
©Inbal Abergil N.O.K. and Next of Kin Covers
N.O.K– Next of Kin
My work series, N.O.K– Next Of Kin, is about the effect of war on the Gold Star Families, and my work around monument, moralization, trauma and healing continues to evolve. N.O.K– Next Of Kin, examines the ways in which American families memorialize their relatives killed in military conflict. I travel throughout the U.S. to meet with relatives of fallen soldiers and to document their methods of coping with loss through the preservation of personal effects. Through images and testimonials, my project honors the dead while at the same time giving voice to a community of survivors who keep memory alive as they strive to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of loss.
In conjunction with the photographs, I held interviews with the families that accompanies the project. Here are excerpts from the testimonials:
Sergeant Donna R. Johnson, 514th Military Police Company, killed in action October 1, 2012, Afghanistan. From a conversation with Tracy Dice-Johnson, her wife.
“Fast forward to September 2011, we’re gonna try to get married on our anniversary of October 10. Then we found out she was up for deployment again for Afghanistan, and so we went to Washington D.C. It was really like a 24-hour elopement. She started doing her pre-deployment training like about two weeks later. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” had been repealed, but none of the laws had really changed”.
“She did want a tattoo of our favorite saint before we deployed, and of course time ran short… and then it turns into whenever we were apart, the song that always rang in my head was Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone. I did it after she left so these are memorial tattoos”.
“Her sister called me and told me that the people with uniforms are here in the house and told her Donna had been killed. I asked her to have them wait there for me. I grabbed our marriage certificate and went over there. I had to go to track them down and force them to give me a notification. They should’ve respected me enough to notify me. If it wasn’t for her mom treating me as her spouse, then I would’ve been shut out completely. I wasn’t considered her next of kin.”
©Inbal Abergil, From the series: N.O.K-Next Of Kin: CORTES “The two shirts and the pillow came back, so I kept this. And that’s how I sleep with them I pretend that it’s him. It’s not him but I pretend”. PV2 Isaac T. Cortes, Killed in action, November 27, 2007 Iraq. From a conversation with Emily Toro, Mother
©Inbal Abergil, From the series: N.O.K-Next Of Kin: BIRDWELL “That’s his uniform. I just didn’t want to put it away and hang it in a closet. I wanted just to keep it out. Apparently, it looks funny on a hanger on hook”. SSG Christopher J Birdwell, Killed in action, August 27, 2012 Afghanistan. From a conversation with Pam Birdwell, Mother
©Inbal Abergil. . From the series: N.O.K-Next Of Kin: LEONARD “I’m not allowing my daughters to play with this one. This was Jaimie’s. I will buy them a different one. Just not this one.” LTC. Jaimie E. Leonard, Intelligence Officer Marine, Killed in action, June 8, 2013 Afghanistan. From a conversation with Liz Harman, Sister
©Inbal Abergil, . From the series: N.O.K-Next Of Kin: ORTEGA “My dad says he doesn’t like going to that area in the living room, because when he looks at his medals, he starts thinking, “What did you become to me? Pure medals… He says, “I told you to not try to be a hero because the heroes end up in the cemetery. Like it’s just full of heroes in the cemetery.” That’s why he doesn’t like this room, so he just comes through it”. HN William F. Ortega, Marine Expeditionary Force. Killed in action, June 18, 2010, Afghanistan. From a conversation with William and Maria Ortega, Father, Mother and Edna Ortega, sister.
©Inbal Abergil, . From the series: N.O.K-Next Of Kin: ORTEGA “He was born in Nicaragua and we came to America when he was three years old. He got his citizenship after he was killed”. HN William F. Ortega, Marine Expeditionary Force. Killed in action, June 18, 2010, Afghanistan. From a conversation with William and Maria Ortega, Father, Mother and Edna Ortega, sister.
©Inbal Abergil, From the series: N.O.K-Next Of Kin: DOMEIJ “I think he was deployed in August and then he was killed October 22nd. So, here’s the bizarre thing, I’m informed on October 21st that my son was killed on October 22nd. Because it’s October 22nd in Afghanistan. That was so bizarre, I didn’t know what my son’s date was– it’s so bizarre to be informed of your son’s death date, the day before”. Sgt. First Class Kristoffer Domeij, Army Ranger, Killed in action October 22, 2011 Afghanistan. From a conversation with Scoti Domeij, Mother
©Inbal Abergil, From the series: N.O.K-Next Of Kin: HAGER “Joshua’s drawing. With memories, it never gets better, it gets different. It’s never less clear it’s just as clear today as it was the day it happened.” SSG Joshua R. Hager, Army Ranger, killed in action February 22, 2007 Iraq. A conversation with Kris Hager, Father
©Inbal Abergil, From the series: N.O.K-Next Of Kin: GOETZ “I couldn’t explain it, I just had this feeling …. Then I went to my computer, eager to find an email from him and the first thing I saw was five killed in Kandahar. It just screamed at me. I thought, maybe he’s just hurt. Nobody had called me yet, nobody knocked at my door yet, I just had this feeling. I turn around and I stood in the middle my living room and then King Kong knocked on my door… I kept thinking, how am I going to tell my boys?” CH Dale Allen Goetz, an Army chaplain, Killed in action, August 30, 2010 Afghanistan. From a conversation with Christina Bixby, Wife
©Inbal Abergil, From the series: N.O.K-Next Of Kin: BASILONE “He was a Medal of Honor recipient in WWII, a nice-looking man. I mean, you kind of remember this is a little town in New Jersey, and all of a sudden there is a hero. And these are people who just are hardworking people; my grandfather is a tailor. I mean, my uncle was in Life magazine when he was still alive, when he was selling war bonds”. GySgt. John Basilone, Killed in action, February 19, 1945 Japan. From a conversation with Diane Hawkins, Niece.
©Inbal Abergil, . From the series: N.O.K-Next Of Kin: MOINESTER “Ray and I kinda put our heads together and said, “I think John should have the medals. Let’s ask him.” Then Raymond said, “How about this—do you want it? If you don’t want it, I’ll keep it.” My son, Bryan, wound up with Robert’s Bible, and he was honored to get Robert’s sword. Bryan’s daughters being adults themselves, they should have their own tradition. They should have their own artifacts”. LTJG Robert W. Moinester, Killed in action January 31, 1968, Vietnam. From a conversation with Barbara Moinester, Sister.
©Inbal Abergil, From the series: N.O.K-Next Of Kin: MOINESTER “We used to follow it because it was the first war on TV. When he was killed, that really came—that hit me. You’re watching the news and stuff; you say, this is for real. Oh my God. After all that hurt and after we buried him, I remember not following the war on TV anymore”. LTJG Robert W. Moinester, Killed in action January 31, 1968, Vietnam. From a conversation with Ray Moinester, Brother.
©Inbal Abergil, . From the series: N.O.K-Next Of Kin: WHITING “Justin said, “Mom don’t send me anything unless I can eat it.” I gave him this, nothing fancy, just a black hardbound old notebook years ago. And he had that with him when he was killed”. “Justin was a Green Beret. Special Forces are made up of 12-man teams, and he was the medic on his team”. “…Medic is what they cry I see the boy/ Bold in his eyes/ I know he is gone/ But still I try/ Back at home a mother cry”. SSG Justin R. Whiting, a Special Forces medical sergeant, killed in action January 19, 2008 Iraq. From a conversation with Estelline Miller, Mother
©Inbal Abergil, . From the series: N.O.K-Next Of Kin: LAKE “This was a Christmas gift from Iraq. My daughter has this stuffed animal like this. She doesn’t go anywhere without it… She calls him Camel. She said, “Mommy, that’s all I have left of Daddy.” Right now, it needs to be stitched up and she needs it to get stitched, but she doesn’t want anybody touching it”. SSG Floyd E. Lake, Killed in action January 20, 2007, Iraq. From a conversation with Linda Lake, Wife.
©Inbal Abergil, From the series: N.O.K-Next Of Kin: PICKETT “This was the newspaper article after he was killed. It was on December 19th, 1967. He actually was a paper boy so this was the journal that he used to deliver”. PFC Stephen William Pickett, Killed in action, December 14, 1967 Vietnam. From a conversation with Victoria Miano, Sister