Skip

Soldiers at War
November 6, 2008 3:15 PM   Subscribe

Suzanne Opton's haunting soldier portraits, appearing on a billboard near you. (courtesy of Design Observer)

Some interesting comments:

As a Marine, I find these really disturbing. If you want to support me... send a letter, send a care package, send a book... for God\'s sake... My wife told me to look at this website, and I am honestly horrified. Is this the representation that Americans have of the troops defending them?

I too, am a spouse of a soldier; I understand the intent behind these, but showing them on the ground, to me, is too much for public viewing. I would prefer to view these at an art museum so that we may have the choice to show our children these depictions.
posted by puckish (43 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
These photos are amazing.
posted by chunking express at 3:25 PM on November 6, 2008


If people tell you they don't want to see your art in public and that it should be in a museum, it probably means you are doing something right.
posted by andoatnp at 3:27 PM on November 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


puckish: I'm not sure what you mean. I have nothing but respect for the guys stuck fighting this pointless war, and one big reason I voted for Mr. Obama is that I believe he'll bring them home and out of harms way and maybe do something to help out those of them who were damaged by it so we don't have another generation of disgruntled veterans.

As for tehse portraits, I'm not entirely sure what she's getting at, but I wouldn't be so quick to assume malicious intent. I know guys who have served and are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and I wish nothing more than a safe return for all of them.
posted by jonmc at 3:29 PM on November 6, 2008


Also, these aren't photos of dead soldiers. These aren't gruesome photos. It's clear what she's going for here, but there are far more shocking photographs on billboards throughout the US. (Assuming billboards in the US suck as much as billboards in Canada.) I think some people are quick to project.

And jonmc, I think those are *both* quotes from the comments on that site, though puckish hasn't made that clear with the way the post is formated.
posted by chunking express at 3:31 PM on November 6, 2008


I've gone back to the site and read some of the comments. Maybe by putting up these portraits of, as someone said 'cold dead heads' she's saying that these young men's bravery is being sacrcrificed for no good reason which is more insulting to them than any billboard could be.
posted by jonmc at 3:33 PM on November 6, 2008


chunking express: I'm just trying to communicate to puckish that we don't have any ill will towards Iraq veterans. As the son of a Vietnam Veteran, I think it's important that gets across.
posted by jonmc at 3:35 PM on November 6, 2008


"It's clear what she's going for here..."

By all means, explain. (BTW, love the website.)
posted by MarshallPoe at 3:36 PM on November 6, 2008


Sorry: Both quotes are from the site. Why did I repost? Because I thought they were interesting. No judgment implied.
posted by puckish at 3:44 PM on November 6, 2008


The "outrage" seems to from be an assumption that the soldiers represented are dead? Some of the bring-em-home-support comes from that assumption, too, it seems. Not sure where they're getting that from.
posted by FuManchu at 3:58 PM on November 6, 2008


These are spectacular. Bruno in particular knocked me out. Great post - thank you.
posted by rtha at 4:07 PM on November 6, 2008


Well I am the spouse of a soldier who is pretty likely to be going to Afghanistan some time in the not too distant future. And I think this is brilliant FWIW. I think a lot of people - both within military forces (be they uniformed or 'camp followers') and those that think they are 'supporting our troops' fail to look beyond the regular acceptable presentations/norms of what is regarded as supporting the troops/showing respect, and anything outside of that is taken as disrespect (I also think a lot of people are thick and just don't 'get' anything that is outside of their normal experience).

A lot of people are surprised when they start talking to myself and my husband about things like the War in Iraq or the military in general because they have preconceived notions about what our opinions will be due to who we are/what we do (I also work for Defence, not in uniform, for another three weeks). The military is one organisation where very few outside, and often also inside, can concieve of things beyond an outdated, straight-jacketed stereotype.
posted by Megami at 4:09 PM on November 6, 2008


Not sure where they're getting that from.

They look like corpses.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:12 PM on November 6, 2008


one big reason I voted for Mr. Obama is that I believe he'll bring them home and out of harms way

Well, those that aren't put into the troop surge in Afghanistan, anyway...
posted by mattholomew at 4:12 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


They look like corpses...to you.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 4:16 PM on November 6, 2008


...she's saying that these young men's bravery is being sacrcrificed for no good reason which is more insulting to them than any billboard could be.

I don't follow this line of argument at all. If the reason for the war was based on a lie, how is that a criticism of the soldiers' personal sacrifices?
posted by odinsdream at 4:17 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


They look like corpses.

Not sure where you're getting that from, but they do look, shall we say, predetermined.
posted by Mblue at 4:19 PM on November 6, 2008


When I was deployed I wouldn't have wanted to see that this campaign was going. Something that I didn't consider before I enlisted, and that hit me hard once I found out (for example) that my mom had gotten an ambien prescription, was that having me overseas was a little over a year of constant stress on everyone in my life, to one degree or another. I would have been really, really unhappy to imagine them running across photos of soldiers posed to be reminiscent of death. I'm pretty unhappy as-is. I think this is a strain a lot of those angry commenters she's got are feeling, even if maybe they don't know how to articulate and translate it into anger over perceived monetary gain.

I dunno. Art's important, but this seems a lot like gut-punching the innocents.
posted by kavasa at 4:19 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Okay, they look like corpses because many of their eyes are unfocused, they are lying on a bare metal floor, there's no clothing or decorations, several of them are quite pale, their faces are generally relaxed and there's no smiling... the pictures seem clearly composed to evoke an instinctual reaction to a dead person.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:25 PM on November 6, 2008


I don't follow this line of argument at all. If the reason for the war was based on a lie, how is that a criticism of the soldiers' personal sacrifices?

Several of them only show data for Afghanistan. Unless there's some information I'm not aware of and Obama's in on the lie, that particular ongoing war was not based on a lie.
posted by mattholomew at 4:28 PM on November 6, 2008


Okay, they look like corpses because many of their eyes are unfocused, they are lying on a bare metal floor, there's no clothing or decorations, several of them are quite pale, their faces are generally relaxed and there's no smiling... the pictures seem clearly composed to evoke an instinctual reaction to a dead person.

Okay, true. I guess it wasn't completely out of left field. But in all but one their faces are raised from the ground, which I assumed meant they were using neck muscles. I may be wrong, it just didn't look like a natural dead- or even sleeping-position.
posted by FuManchu at 4:40 PM on November 6, 2008


Kavasa, while I respect your personal experience and opinion, but since when does society have to be kept in the dark about something so that a small minority doesn't have to be reminded about something that is stressing them out? Maybe I am interpreting what you are saying incorrectly, but that is how it is coming across to me.

I want people to know that the people who we send to serve are real. And can potentially end up dead. I also wish there was a lot more in the press and out there generally reminding people that things are awful for the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan (and Congo and Sudan etc. etc.) and that 'The War on Terror' has consequences beyond waiting longer in line at the airport and wondering if your phone is tapped. It means death and destructions for thousands of people, many who didn't ask to be involved. And it means stress and maiming and horror and potentially death for men and women like you and I, and their families and their communities.
posted by Megami at 4:41 PM on November 6, 2008


There are no lines on some of their faces, they're so young. It's achingly sad to me that their lives are forever scarred by the fact that they've been paid to kill people they don't even know so that GWB could shock and awe the world with his mighty power. Yuck.
posted by heyho at 4:44 PM on November 6, 2008


many of their eyes are inward focused
they are lying on cheap military wool blankets
there's no hats or jewelery
their faces are generally relaxed

Staged for effect, but I'd be surprised if the photographer meant to convey death.
posted by Mblue at 4:45 PM on November 6, 2008


These are good portraits. thanks.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:53 PM on November 6, 2008


My reactions:

1. Where were these a year ago?
2. Didn't like them.
3. Conflicted if they are good.

I dislike a lot of stuff that I can objectively look at and say, "They did a great job. That's good stuff I don't like." This isn't one of those times.

Decent composition, nice to get a dialog going, bit late to the party and I am left thinking they could be disrespectful. Also a bit meh.

One Obama supporter's (who served in the military under Clinton) opinion.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:04 PM on November 6, 2008


Awesome. Very interesting, I think. I'm not sure how they're disrespectful, but I guess I can understand how other people can think they're disrespectful.
posted by tmcw at 5:21 PM on November 6, 2008


I want people to know that the people who we send to serve are real.

How exactly do these billboards do that? This doesn't add any more depth than the people who fetishize troops as the shiny defenders of freedom who can do no wrong.

My soon-to-be spouse is in Afghanistan now. The pictures don't shake me, but they don't impress me either. Maybe I'm just tired.
posted by lullaby at 5:36 PM on November 6, 2008


well, the expressions look to me like the unfocused expressions seen in arty erotic porn photos! So my automatic reaction was, mm. cute fit boys!
posted by By The Grace of God at 5:45 PM on November 6, 2008


Several of them only show data for Afghanistan. Unless there's some information I'm not aware of and Obama's in on the lie, that particular ongoing war was not based on a lie.

Okay, I think you're missing my point, though. Regardless of whether you believe that any war is based on a bad premise, how does merely having that opinion translate into disrespect for the soldiers in that war?

Contrast it with specifically charging soldiers themselves with doing something bad, like killing civilians, which would clearly involve the actions of the soldiers, with simply stating that the war was not necessary, and thus their sacrifices, though honorable, are unnecessary, given that premise.

Unnecessary is not the same thing as worthless. In fact, that's what makes it ever so much worse - that the sacrifice of life is so severe and horrible that it must be for a good reason.
posted by odinsdream at 6:00 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


"but since when does society have to be kept in the dark about something"

I advocated censorship? Who are you saying is keeping whom in the dark about what?

The farthest anyone could take my statement is "I wish she'd reconsidered this," and even if she had, that would keep no one in the dark about anything. Footage and stories from both fronts of war are... everywhere.
posted by kavasa at 6:17 PM on November 6, 2008


phil collins did something similar - no, not the guy from genesis.......
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:22 PM on November 6, 2008


Unnecessary is not the same thing as worthless. In fact, that's what makes it ever so much worse - that the sacrifice of life is so severe and horrible that it must be for a good reason.

I completely agree, but I think a lot of people struggle with that idea. The thought that soldiers died for no real purpose is so unsettling that some prefer to blame those who point out the facts of the situation rather than deal with the situation itself.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:46 PM on November 6, 2008


I dunno. Art's important, but this seems a lot like gut-punching the innocents.

I hear you.

But sometimes, we need to be punched in the gut.

This has been the most sanitized war since the invention of the camera. I was five in 1971, but I remember seeing the Vietnam war on the 6 o'clock news, on what seems like every night. I remember footage of reporters in the jungle, running, sounds of gunfire, hiding behind sandbags. What do we get now? Fifteen seconds of "Three American soldiers were wounded in an IED attack in [fill in name of town/province, Iraq/Afgahnistan]. Bruce is up next with the weather. Stay tuned."

We're not even allowed (I use the term loosely) to see or be shown photographs of military coffins.

We are the ones on whose behalf these sacrifices are ostensibly be paid. We should know the price. Not just the parents or spouses or children or friends of those serving, but all of us. And only being allowed or encouraged to see soldiers as Heroes does us all a huge disservice.
posted by rtha at 7:55 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Grace of God - well, the expressions look to me like the unfocused expressions seen in arty erotic porn photos! So my automatic reaction was, mm. cute fit boys!

I found the choice of mostly attractive men as subjects somewhat distracting. Does the United States Army have some sort of deal going with the Ford Model Agency? Or does the photographer think we would be insufficiently moved by the feigned death of plain boys?
posted by ShameSpiral at 8:16 PM on November 6, 2008


Like corpses? No, not at all. They look like lovers, as if you're in bed with them. Tremendously vunerable and human.
posted by jokeefe at 8:47 PM on November 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Since September, I've been passing Bruno on Marietta Street here in Atlanta on my way to a client site. It's still striking...
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 8:55 PM on November 6, 2008


I think part of what's so compelling about these photos, for me, is that when I looked at one of them I immediately wondered if I was looking at a dead soldier. I was forced to look into the eyes of that soldier, and then realized thankfully, that I was wrong. This is not a photo of a dead soldier plastered on a billboard. Even knowing this, I stared into the eyes of each one. Just to make sure. There is something I am seeking, no matter how still or expressionless; I can find it if I look. It's completely reassuring. You can't undo a connection you've made once you look into another human's eyes. And you also know that the possibility of the original assumption is not that far off. It creates a sense of urgency in you to do something to ensure that the closer look prevails.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:18 AM on November 7, 2008


Keep the billboards up.

But don't bitch about recruiters in schools.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 4:29 AM on November 7, 2008


Two of these portraits are in the Museum I work at. The were exhibited recently, two-three months ago during a rotation of contemporary works. Their display in a museum looks nothing like those billboards.
posted by erin_trying at 6:30 AM on November 7, 2008


They look dead. And all those who say they look like lovers have revealed their secret necrophilia. I'm keeping a list.
posted by dame at 7:13 AM on November 7, 2008


And why exactly are you keeping a list?
posted by iamkimiam at 8:58 AM on November 7, 2008


So I know who to invite to my funeral.
posted by dame at 9:59 AM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


These are great...it would be amazing if she could do the same photographs of the poor people of Iraq and Afghanistan.
posted by agregoli at 7:33 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


« Older Angry "Rocky Horror" fans want to   |   Hobo Matters Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post