The Pretend Villages documents the inhabitants and structures of imagined, fabricated Iraqi and Afghan villages on the training grounds of U.S. military bases. Situated in the deep forests of North Carolina and Louisiana and in a great expanse of desert near Death Valley in California, these villages serve as strange and poignant way stations for soldiers headed off to war, and for those who have fled from it: American troops encounter actors, often recent immigrants from Iraq and Afghanistan, who are paid to be “cultural role-players.” Christopher Sims photographed in these surprising and fantastical realms over a fifteen-year period as U.S. wars abroad fluctuated in intensity—with this book, he presents an archival record of “enemy” village life that is as convincingly accurate and comically misdirected as it is mundane and nightmarish.
Christopher Sims is the Undergraduate Education Director at the Center for Documentary Studies and a Visiting Associate Professor of the Practice at the Sanford School of Public Policy, both at Duke University. At Duke he also teaches in the Duke-in-Berlin summer program and in the MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts graduate program.
He was selected as the recipient of the Baum Award for Emerging American Photographers in 2010, chosen as one of the “new Superstars of Southern Art” by the Oxford American magazine in 2012, awarded the Arte Laguna Prize in Photographic Art in 2015, and named an Archie Green Fellow at the U.S. Library of Congress in 2017. He earned a M.F.A. in studio art from the Maryland Institute College of Art and a M.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.