For most Americans, the fighting in Iraq unfolds from afar. But for others, including these six Puget Sound-area residents, the war is close to home.

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Bill Kuhns, 62, Seattle, Nathan Hale High School art photography teacher.

Bill Kuhns has seen young people not much older than his students risk their lives in Vietnam, Kosovo, Bosnia and, more recently, in Iraq.

Each time this Army reservist, husband and father goes to war, he is reminded again of the unpredictability of life. And when he gets home, he tries to instill in his students: “Life is short. Art is long.”

He doesn’t teach social studies or another subject where his experience might relate directly to the lessons, he says. So he doesn’t talk much about it except when students ask if he has ever been injured (he hasn’t).

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But, inevitably, it influences his approach to teaching. He’s got much less patience for silly stuff such as teenage squabbles and complaints about getting up early.

He tells his students to focus on important things, such as producing meaningful photos: One he took in Kosovo shows an elderly woman in black carrying a grocery bag, ducking under an archway amid homes destroyed in the war, “going about her daily business of getting food for her family.”

Or one a student took at a christening. It shows an infant almost standing in the baptismal font, supported by one adult and ringed by others who focus all their attention on the child. The perimeter is dark; almost all the light shines on the baby.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are,” Kuhns tells his students. “You can be really old or really young. You can still produce meaningful images that will hopefully outlast you.”

— Janet I. Tu

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