While working as a contractor in Kandahar, Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013, veteran James Toler became intrigued with a series graffiti tags on barrier walls.
The Del Ray resident was immediately struck by their significance—artwork produced by troops living and serving far from home.
Knowing the overseeing command considered the tags intolerable graffiti instead of art, Toler documented the works in photographs. They depict everything from silhouettes to cartoon characters.
“I would have a piece of the wall brought back and placed in Smithsonian,” Toler said. “It’s a defiant thing; it’s illegal to paint on walls, but it’s there. … Without any exposure, people will never know they existed. We have to ask that stuff to be brought back.”
In an effort to expose more people to the artwork, Toler is showing his photos at St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub on Saturday, Jan. 18 and Sunday, Jan. 19. He will be selling a limited number of photo books and postcards from 2 to 4 p.m. on both days.
Toler hopes to write a book about the tags someday, bringing the pictures together and tie them to the stories of the troops.
“I just want to bring notoriety to the items, those walls,” he said. “That’s all I’m trying to do.”
St. Elmo’s is located at 2300 Mount Vernon Ave.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published.