Soldier/Many Wars (Decode Books, 104 pp., $60) is a book of stark, close-up photographs of active-duty service personnel and veterans divided up into two sections by the photographer Suzanne Opton. One section (“Soldier”) is made up of tight shots of young Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans laying their heads before the camera. Many were displayed publicly in cities across the nation in 2008.
The other section (“Many Wars”) is made up of tight portraits of war veterans draped in rough-cut cloth. Most of these powerful photographs were taken at a VA clinic in Vermont of veterans being treated for post-war emotional problems. Several in this group are Vietnam veterans.
Each of these photos contains a one-paragraph description person in the shot, along with longer quotes from the veteran about his or her war experiences. The “Soldier” photos contain only the last name of the veteran and how many days he or she served in Iraq or Afghanistan—and in some cases both.
Opton “cleverly co-opts conventions from the commercial world” in these photographs, Phillip Prodger, the Head of the Photography Department at the Peobody Essex Museum, writes in the book’s introductory essay. “Her pictures resemble fashion shots more than traditional war photographs….”
“The concordance with fashion photography contributes to the work’s equivocal air, portraying serious subject matter with techniques normally identified with comparatively cheerful publications.”
Opton’s web site is http://suzanneopton.com