Birkholz, 353 days in Iraq, 205 days in Afghanistan
Suzanne Opton’s striking and controversial portrait series of US soldiers is currently showing as part of the 2010 Brighton Photo Biennial.
Opton’s began photographing soldiers in 2004. For this first series, she asked for a particular pose, capturing the soldiers lying with their heads on one side, staring into the camera lens. According to Opton, the soldiers were more than willing to adopt this position, and she would wait until they became unguarded before she would take the shots. The resulting images are unsettling in their intimacy, and in some the faces resemble death masks, a quality that has led the work to become hugely contentious.
Bruno, 355 days in Iraq
Williams, 396 days in Iraq
This controversy was actively sought by Opton, who first began displaying the photographs at a time in the US when imagery that gave a questioning or potentially negative impression of war was virtually banned in the country. Rather than simply exhibit the images in a gallery space, where they would be seen by a limited audience, Opton displayed her photographs on billboards around the country, drawing a huge response, both positive and negative, from those who saw them. These reactions played out on her blog, soldiersface.com, where viewers continue to leave comments on the series to this day.
L Jefferson, length of service undisclosed
Claxton, 120 days in Afghanistan
Part of Opton’s intention was to highlight the individuals that serve in the US army, to counter the image of soldiers as being faceless drones. Alongside each photograph, Opton presents the name of the soldier featured and where and how long they have served, giving a small insight into the experiences of the people shown.
Andrew Cotrel, Iraq
Jordan Paquette, Iraq
For a second series of work, Many Wars, which is also on display as part of the BPB, Opton offers even more information about her subjects. The series shows US war veterans who have served in conflicts including Iraq, Vietnam and World War II and are all suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. For these photographs, Opton offered the veterans a prop of a piece of cloth to use as they liked. Some wrapped themselves in it as if seeking comfort, while on others it appears almost as a shroud. Alongside these images, Opton presents a text explaining the veterans’ experiences and how they now feel about the wars in which they fought. To read some of the texts, visit suzanneopton.com.
Steve Hensel, Iraq
Shea McClure, Iraq
Opton’s work appears as part of the New Ways of Looking group show at the Brighton Photo Biennial. It is on show at the former Co-op department store in the city until November 14. More info is at bpb.org.uk.