A Shrine Down the Hall
March 19, 2010 11:38 AM   Subscribe

Bedrooms of the Fallen, from war photographer Ashley Gilbertson. Via the NYT Lens Blog: War Memorials With Neatly Made Beds. (Slideshow: The Shrine Down The Hall)
posted by zarq (26 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
They're just photos of empty bedrooms, but I found them quite moving. The comments on the NYT blog post are also worth reading, imo.
The purpose of this project is to honor these fallen – not simply as soldiers, marines, airmen and seamen, but as sons, daughters, sisters and brothers – and to remind us that before they fought, the lived, and they slept, just like us, at home. Bedrooms of the Fallen was conceived in 2007 as a way to memorialize soldiers and marines who died in Iraq. It was expanded to include casualties from Afghanistan in 2009. The project is a work in progress, and ongoing. The initial goal is to photograph forty bedrooms, and publish a book of the work.
Mr. Gilbertson used the Washington Post's Faces of the Fallen feature to find families who might wish to participate.
posted by zarq at 11:40 AM on March 19, 2010

I saw this in the NYTimes today and really didn't get it. Show me the bedroom of anyone who died young and it's gonna be sad. The fact that they are soldiers? Who at least had the choice to become soldiers?

Show me the bedrooms of the politicians who sent them to their death with their illegal and immoral war.
posted by three blind mice at 11:45 AM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

A beautiful idea and beautifully executed. Not many places convey the sense of the absent person the way a bedroom does. I find this a good deal more powerful and expressive than lists of names or military head shots, and in some ways as compelling as photos of flag draped coffins.
posted by bearwife at 11:50 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's amazing to me how similar their bedrooms are:
Stuffed animal, sports trophy, Army propaganda poster, empty bottle/can of booze trophy, TV.
And often the same sort of quilt on the bed.
posted by chococat at 11:50 AM on March 19, 2010

Really moving. The one that struck me the most had the trophies on the windowsill. I kind of wish the photos were in color.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:55 AM on March 19, 2010

And often the same sort of quilt on the bed.

The quilts are a common American memorial tradition. There's an organization that makes and sends them (upon request) to families of soldiers who were killed.
posted by zarq at 11:57 AM on March 19, 2010

I get what they were trying to do here, but the rooms are homogenous. They all looked like suburban bedrooms in their parents' homes, which suggests to me that there was an editorial decision to exclude career soldiers and the poor.
posted by sswiller at 12:20 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

When is this f'in war going to end?

Then again this one will end and another will begin next door.

So sick of it.
posted by stormpooper at 12:30 PM on March 19, 2010

In one narrative, it's deeply moving that these young men from good homes would voluntarily turn their backs on all that comfort and security to go overseas to defend freedom and ultimately sacrifice their promising lives for the right of all people everywhere to live in a democracy. In another narrative: what a stupid waste. George Bush and his advisors should be sentenced to sleep in these rooms, one after another, night after night, until they've slept in all 4,000. Pleasant dreams!
posted by Faze at 12:51 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Gray on black is hard to read.
posted by I love You at 1:18 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

These are all kids rooms...so very, very sad...
posted by zerobyproxy at 1:27 PM on March 19, 2010

It's amazing to me how similar their bedrooms are

PFC. Langenbrunner's room stood out because it was so different from the others. Lord of the Rings, Stargate, The Matrix, telescope. My immediate thought was 'what was this nerd doing in the army?' Cause of death was suicide, age 19. I guess it's no more tragic or devastating to the families involved than any of the other senseless losses, but the picture of his bedroom in particular was very moving to me.
posted by IanMorr at 1:31 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

They all looked like suburban bedrooms in their parents' homes, which suggests to me that there was an editorial decision to exclude career soldiers and the poor.

Actually, what struck me most was that the furniture is all alike because it is cheap, mass produced, particle-board furniture bought cheaply at Wal-Mart or Big Lots. These are not the bedrooms of middle-class families. They don't shop at Target, or Ikea, or even Ashley Furniture or Rooms to Go. The rooms are decorated, but there is no "decor" - not even in the room(s) of the daughters, where you might be most likely to find a matching bed and dresser set.

These families might not think of themselves as poor, but they are definitely all alike.
posted by anastasiav at 1:40 PM on March 19, 2010

IanMoor: My father, who served a full career in the Air Force, has read every Hugo and Nebula award winning book, in order. He started with the Hugo & Nebula awards when his then-current duty assignment had him traveling at 90% of the time, but he first read Lord of the Rings in the 1960's. Mom tells the story how they could only afford one copy and each kept stealing it from the other to read on the bus. I remember him suggesting I buy Choose Your Adventure books at the book fair in the 2nd grade and him giving me Asimov, the Stainless Steel Rat, and Dune to read in junior high school.

When I was six, Dad also had a heavy travel assignment. It had been his practice to retell the Lord of the Rings to me and my sister at night when we'd go camping. So, in order not to miss him so much while he was gone, I asked for his copy of the Hobbit to read while he was gone. I swear it took me the whole year, but I read straight through to the end of Return of the King and it did help me not miss him.

All due respect, but I don't see how that one room doesn't belong with the others, only that each room has its own backstory, some of which are more familiar to some viewers than others. It shouldn't take war and war memorials and death and strife to convince Americans that the people who serve in their military aren't alien beings. Soldiers are not a Them and you are not an Us. Kids in the military aren't even necessarily a type; they're just people. Some enlist because they're poor, many don't. Some who enlist are they're macho jocks, just as many aren't. The boy next door to my parents in their upper middle class Chicago neighborhood, fortunately, came home from his second tour Iraq in one piece. The last time we had a Gulf War, a friend in college--son of a doctor--dropped out to go fight. He was a skinny kid who played guitar in the grass for fun.

I'm trying to take what you say as simply that this is the first room in the series you identify with, at face value, in other words, that this was no more tragic, but that it was particularly moving to you. Nonetheless, you comment still bugs me. However, I suppose that is the value of these types of memorials: forcing everyone to find themselves among the dead.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:09 PM on March 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

Yeah, this one with the Matrix/LoTR posters really struck me. It was like a room frozen in time, with the obsolete computer and everything. I don't really think it's that surprising that a "nerd" would join the army, especially one who was into swords and stuff like that. Seems like a pretty obvious fit, depending on the type of nerd.

Also, if you're really poor you're not going to be able to keep your dead kids room untouched.
posted by delmoi at 2:40 PM on March 19, 2010

I don't see the rooms as tragic insomuch as a peek into the life that was lost.

Observing interests, styles, achievements and more helps us get a better idea of the person better than a simple photo of the soldier can, and that helps create a more human connection.

We would probably connect even if the owner of the room wasn't dead, but of course since death has occurred we now pay more attention.

And maybe that's the point.
posted by bwg at 4:40 PM on March 19, 2010

The rooms so much resemble a tomb, I wonder if their parents painstakingly picked up every last sock to create these memorials for their children.

Or, perhaps even more sadly, these kids left their rooms this way because they did expect to come home.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 5:05 PM on March 19, 2010

there was an editorial decision to exclude career soldiers

How many chances would there be to preserve the bedroom of an older solder? For those living with partners the partner would still be making use of the room. For the single ones or the ones who were the main or sole breadwinner, the house or apartment would become unoccupied or the remaining tenants, if any, would have to go else where.
posted by frobozz at 6:23 PM on March 19, 2010

Again, as always in these threads I feel compelled to note that these are articles glorifying war, the purest war porn.

They never even obliquely refer to the idea that perhaps these kids had the wrong idea to go off and die for no apparent purpose, and certainly never even breathe the concept that these kids went out to kill strangers who had never offered them any harm and instead got killed themselves; the fact that 99 times out 100, some random Iraqi or Afghani got killed instead of "our boys" is completely out of the picture.

Note that the kid who had the room that delmoi refers to killed himself - at the age of 19.

It's 2010. If you believe that these kids died "defending freedom" then you are living in a dream world. They died to profit the military-industrial complex and because of George Bush's insanity and nothing else.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:18 PM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

lupus_yonderboy > Again, as always in these threads I feel compelled to note that these are articles glorifying war, the purest war porn.


All I could think was "Jesus Christ, please bring those kids home."
posted by Decimask at 8:36 PM on March 19, 2010

That's not a prayer by the way. It's an expletive.
posted by Decimask at 8:36 PM on March 19, 2010

Decimask: you aren't the intended consumer of this. To a young person, this veneration of the departed soldier is extremely attractive...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:14 PM on March 19, 2010

A thought-provoking series. It induces a kind of mental stasis. Aside from agreeing about the telescope and Lord of the Rings room, another thought struck me almost immediately. It was a crude thought, granted, but a deeper one at the same time: is the porn stash still there in all these rooms? Are the secret, disapproved-of things still undiscovered? Or have they been quietly disposed of?

The title of the series, invoking the idea of mixed curation and preservation, speaks volumes to me. These rooms most likely aren't kept in a state that's anything like their occupants would have left them - or lived in them. No teenager likes it when mum or dad goes into their room and tidies it.

I think they have probably been tidied and polished, and obviously exist now as strongly-grieved-over totems for the parents, who are decades older than their dead sons and daughters. It shows.

These photos call to mind the usual late-teens, early-twenties straining away from the family home and the old life, the glorying in being away from home and free, the strange, constricted feeling of being in your childhood room again after some time away. I feel angry the kids are dead, and a mixture of intense compassion for and a weird, inexplicable frustration at the parents.

I don't know whether I would feel the same need to sanitise things in the circumstances, but for some reason, seeing these photos, it really bugs me. Thanks for the links.
posted by paperpete at 6:01 AM on March 20, 2010

PFC. Richard P. Langenbrunner:Boys and girls, just boys and girls.
posted by cenoxo at 4:37 PM on March 20, 2010

I can't see them on my iPad, because it doesn't have flash.
posted by Sukiari at 10:35 PM on March 20, 2010

I can see nothing at all but blank black screen. Firefox/Ubuntu. Flash usually works.
posted by Goofyy at 12:07 AM on March 24, 2010

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