Hillsboro resident became professional photographer after military service

After taking pictures in the war-torn hills of Afghanistan, Zach Holden of Hillsboro retreated to Oregon’s remote Alvord Desert to capture a more peaceful terrain. by: COURTESY PHOTO: ZACH HOLDEN - Zach Holdens photographs on display at Insomnia Coffee Co. in Hillsboro capture the serene, often desolate beauty of the southeastern Oregon desert.

Through the month of March, Holden’s photography will be displayed at Insomnia Coffee Co., 5389 Baseline Road in Hillsboro.

Holden has loved photography since childhood when he found his dad’s camera. While attending Grant High School in Portland, his photography teacher, Judi Brandel, continued to cultivate Holden’s love of capturing stills.

After his first time developing images in the darkroom, Holden was hooked.

“The image just appeared out of nowhere,” he remembered. “I thought it was just the most magical thing I had ever seen.”

Holden ended up joining the Army National Guard as a Blackhawk helicopter mechanic, a job that eventually led him overseas to Iraq when he was 26 years old. It was in that battle-scarred nation Holden found a way to make a living with his passion and accept the challenge of capturing beauty even in the midst of barrenness and desolation.

In Iraq, between assignments evacuating injured soldiers and civilians via helicopter, Holden met Army photographers and videographers who inspired him to join the 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

Later, while serving in Afghanistan as a video- and photojournalist, Holden walked through villages, towns and countrysides, meeting people, hearing their stories and taking pictures. It was in one of these villages he met an 8-year-old girl, Zarka, and her father. Zarka had been shot in the leg during a battle between the Afghan police and the Taliban. The bullet went through her femoral artery, causing extensive harm and damaging her nerves.

Zarka found her way to a small base operated by the Polish military. Eventually, she was flown to Poland, where photojournalists helped raise money for her medical bills and a Polish neurosurgeon donated his time. Zarka’s leg functionality was eventually restored.

“If not for our help, she would’ve died,” said Holden, who pointed out this experience to exemplify what makes the effort of military service abroad worth the effort. “At least we could do something for this girl and her dad.”

When Holden returned to the states, he sought out one of the most secluded corners of his home state he could find. Holden planned a backpacking trip to the desert in southeast Oregon, from where he had seen more stars than he ever had before, and from where his show at Insomnia Coffee Co. emerged.

The Alvord Desert “actually looks really similar to Afghanistan; I could’ve taken similar images there,” Holden said. “But instead this was a place of rest and relaxation, where you didn’t have to be on guard all the time.”

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