Suzanne Opton

Suzanne Opton, a photographer based in New York, has created a series of intimate and disturbing portraits of young American soldiers who had recently returned from wars in Iraq or Afghanistan (or both), and who were scheduled to return again to war after a brief stint of more training at an Army base in the United States.

The soldiers, who had volunteered to join the Army, also volunteered to be part of Opton’s project without really knowing what it was about.

The portraits were made at an Army base, using a very unconventional pose, in a close-up manner. Opton asked each soldier to put his or her head down on a hard table, facing sideways toward the camera. She asked them to remain still while she made the photograph. No further words or directions were exchanged between photographer and subject. As the photographer silently fiddled with her large 4 x 5 camera, adjusting the focus, moving the lights, taking her time, the soldiers tended to let down their guard and get lost in the noise of their own thoughts and memories. She waited for that kind of unguarded moment to capture her picture.

The portraits are stripped down, raw, and revealing. Except for the haircuts, there is nothing in the photographs to suggest that these people are soldiers. We see no uniforms or medals or guns or camouflage. Instead we see large disembodied heads, and the intimate details of faces of very young people who look stunned or numb.

Another thing that is disquieting about these portraits is that we rarely personally see people in positions like these, close up, unless we are in bed with them, side by side, heads resting on a pillow. So, we are forced into an uncomfortably intimate proximity with someone who appears to be traumatized. It is hard to shake that feeling.

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