In August 2008, photographer Suzanne Opton unveiled her latest series of portraits on a range of billboards across various US cities. Opton’s subjects were nine American soldiers from Fort Drum in New York, stationed at the base between tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Her aim, as she said in an interview on thecontemporary.org, was “to make a vulnerable portrait of a soldier. I wanted to stand our idea of soldiering on its head, because when I think of soldiers I think of how young and vulnerable they all are.”
Opton’s work has understandably proved controversial. Even before all the giant portraits were erected, original billboard providers CBS Outdoor cancelled a contract to display one of them in Minneapolis during the Republican National Convention. Clear Channel has since installed the billboards nationally.
Hundreds of comments have also been left at Opton’s website, ranging from enthusiastic support of her artistic venture, to criticism that she has exploited the soldiers (with some commenters under the impression that her subjects are actually dead).
It’s no doubt a provocative project and the debate on Opton’s website has proved to be an ongoing aspect of the work, which will be displayed until late December (though we hear that one of the billboards that proved most controversial, sited in conservative Columbus, Ohio, has just been taken down). Here’s a selection of some of the comments left at the project’s website, soldiersface.com, where maps of billboard locations are also shown.
These photographs have left me speechless. They remind you of the essential dignity and vulnerabiliy of these men and women.
Sidney Goldfarb, 08/22/2008 20:15
Wonderful against the sky, our soldiers with their heads on the line and our nation with its head in the sand. How can they deny you? Thank you for such a timely reminder.
jean, 08/27/2008 20:07
I’m glad that these were taken down. They speak to none of the dignity that goes in serving one’s country, they just address the death that one might face…. We need fighters! Not art.
Roy Alexander, 08/28/2008 23:26
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a picture that truly “tells a thousand words”. Suzanne Opton is a photographic genius. I think these photos deserve a Pulitzer.
Kat, 09/27/2008 23:10
Being a veteran I found the photo very moving. I pass it every day going home from work in Houston. It’s amazing how something so simple can stir so many emotions. I feel it will raise the public’s awareness … of the soldiers that sacrifice their lives everyday.
Eric 10/22/2008 16:33
As a marine, I find these really disturbing. If you want to support me send a letter, send a care package…. Is this the representation [America has] of the troops? Cold dead heads?
Derek, 11/01/2008 23:47