Wounded: The Legacy of War (Adams, 2013) is a 300 page book that offers portraits British soldiers who have been injured that I wanted to explore because I think it’s pertinent to my work.
Adams takes the viewer through the personal stories of service personnel who have been injured. The injuries are not exclusively due to active service, though by focussing on Service personnel he implicitly elevates these wounded to a different level than that of civilians. Reading the stories was interesting and probably harrowing to some. Yet it was the imagery Adams create that I really interrogated. Here is a typical selection.
All the images were shot in an anonymous studio where aspects of the subject matter could be isolated and emphasised. As you can see here above Adams’ photos appeared to fall into three broad categories: firstly the forensic where the focus was on the physical damage. Sometimes these shots were in colour and other times monochrome. Sometimes faces were shown other times not. That decision relied on where the scars or damage was located.
The second type of image incorporated narrative triggers. For example, pieces of impairment related equipment and or partial or whole military uniforms were included in the frame and so hinted at both the past and future.
The third type of imagery was symbolic and referenced the nature of military life.
I am not sure what I got out of the book. As I said the stories were interesting but these and the photos did not lead me to any new insights into either soldiering or the nature of impairment. Adams rather straight photographic approach appeared very different to that of Michael Stokes – see here.
“That was not the vibe I was getting from [one veteran I was photographing] so I decided to photograph him exactly the same way I would any of my fitness models.”
Stokes’ approach was to apply modelling and glamour criteria and techniques to similar subjects –wounded soldiers – but he was much more selective. Thus all of his subjects had nice clean amputations and all were good looking, muscled up, young men. Indeed it was just because of this approach that Stokes made much more of an impact on me. I just wish he’d taken it further and used the glamour approach on a wider range people and impairments that including those with disfiguring damage and normal bodies as this would have intensified the thought process in the viewer about beauty.
In the end it was clear that both approaches were used to different ends: one told a story and the other made a statement about conventions and beauty. I think these approaches offer me another way of referencing the body in my work – by my visible scars.
B. Adams, (2013) Wounded: The Legacy of War, Published by Steidl