Reading The Pictures: Ahold Of Our Veterans

05/25/2011 12:05 pm ET
  • Michael Shaw Publisher of the visual politics and media literacy site, Reading The Pictures.


Why is the Walter Reed scandal -- involving the abominable treatment of Iraqi war veterans -- such a big story now? Certainly the issue is nothing new.

There are two reasons, I believe.

First, the latest exposé had pictures. Second, with the Administration in near-total denial about a war gone insanely wrong, focus is increasing turning to returning soldiers to gauge the effect of the war on the national psyche. As symbols, our veterans -- in their bodies and on their faces -- carry the debacle and the damage that, otherwise, can can only sense vicariously.

Often, it is the role of the journalist, the artist, or the photographer to help us imagine and feel a situation, its breadth, its nerve-singeing reality.

The photos above are from a series by photographer Suzanne Opton entitled "Soldier." They were taken in 2005 upon the soldiers' return to Fort Drum. Each had served at least 100 days in either Afghanistan or Iraq and were awaiting redeployment. According to Opton, her purpose was simply to "look into the face of someone who had seen something unforgettable."

Because these images have received a good bit of attention from the art and photographic community, you can easily google them and read artist statements, reviews and a wide range of interpretations. On the most obvious level, Ms. Opton opens up the experience of these soldiers through "helping hands." If soldiering is an activity that doesn't translate well to home, it seems the power of touch helps unlock the experience a soldier would otherwise keep to him or herself.

I am interested in what you see here -- of the individuals, and about the war.

After that, I would like to show you where Ms. Opton took this work, pushing the view of the soldiers internal experience, and our proximity to it, to a whole new, if strange and unsettling place.

Suzanne's website here.

For more of the visual, visit

All images ©Suzanne Opton. New York 2005. Posted by permission.