Red poppies on every street corner, bleeding hearts and wounded souls making their voice heard on a day of rememberance. From the devastating Born on the Fourth of July to the suffering of shelshocked Israeli soldiers, the plight of those living with unhealable, soul destroying scars has always been close to my heart. 'I am like an animal dragging a wounded leg' was the painfully ominous testimony of one soldier trying to describe his post war existance.
Regardless of political stand, how 'justified' any conflict is or how worthy a cause, surviving soldiers are in mental, emotional and physical pain and we owe it to them to care.
Yesterday, at 11 oclock, the London bus I was travelling on stopped and the driver announced a two minute silence. In the two minutes that followed all passengers came together and sad as it was, the experience was intriguingly uplifting. It was the effect of empathy, feeling the pain of our fellow men and women.
My only wish was that, as is the custom on Israel's holocuast rememberance day, everyone and everything would stop. Schools, offices, cars, bicycles, factories, shops and supermarkets..the whole nation coming together to think not just of those who died, but of the pining mothers, fathers, friends and families left behind. These two minutes of silence would teach children a worthy lesson of the value of empathy and bring caring for others to life.
I talk to musician/photographer Bryan Adams and ITN journalist Caroline Froggatt about their new book Wounded: The Legacy of War. A collection of photographs of servicemen and women who 'have cheated death whilst serving their country in Iraq and Afghanistan..unflinchingly documenting the horrific disfigurements and disabilities that they have suffered in the line of fire over the past decade'.
I start by asking Bryan how he got involved with the project.
Q I am intrigued by Wounded: The Legacy of War, what attracted you to this project?
A I was approached by journalist Caroline Froggatt. I agreed to do the project thinking that it might one day be an exhibition. 4 years later its a book, and a document to some the atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Obviously this is only a glimpse of what kind of horrors people went through whether in the military or not, but I felt it was important to see and we mustn't forget these people. Caroline contacted me out of the blue, I'm not sure how she found me other than she's a journalist, and that's what they do!
Q As a photographer, did you find you had to 'block' your instinctive empathy for the subjects in order to concentrate on your craft?
A I was really moved, sometimes beyond words. Mostly due to the humility and humour these guys had. Also, with every yes we had from someone agreeing to be involved, it further solidified my belief that what we were doing was the right thing.
Q Many music stars have futile 'diversifying' attempts to their name, to what do you attribute your success?
A Thanks, I was lucky to have started when I did. It never occurred to me until the mid-90's that I could juggle both things. That was when I started to do my own album covers and commissioning my own art work. It was lots of fun, with a great deal of experimentation. Thats still going on actually...
Q What cameras did you use for the book? Are you a film and/or digital photographer
A I used a Canon mostly, and occasionally a Mamiya.
I'm digital but I miss my Rolleiflex a lot.
Q Larry Klein, Madeleine Peyroux, Bryan May, Thomas Dolby and other musicians I have interviewed, spoke of musicians/tracks that never fail to move them, what are yours?
A I love Bob Marley, its mostly what I listen to.
Q Which photographers still inspire you?
A There are many great ones, I'm mostly drawn to the Avedon and Penn era of NYC photography.
Caroline Froggatt Bryan was familiar with Bryan Adams's photographic work for some time.
I speak with the passionate ITN journalist about the challenging task of putting the book togethre, the emotional journey of working with wounded servicemen and the connection with Bryan Adams.
Q What made you choose Bryan as the photographer for the book?
A I loved Bryan's portraits for their composition above all else and instinctively I thought he might relish the challenge of such a subject matter. I was right, we met, thrashed out some ideas and the project was a born.
Bryan is a ball of creative energy, with such an open mind. He is enormously refreshing to work with and he really understood what I wanted to achieve. He was really inventive with the guys we were photographing, finding something very unique in each person to capture. I shall feel forever indebted to him for bringing the concept to fruition.
Q Tell me about how this book came about.
A After the birth of my first child I took on a specialised remit which was defense. It was at a time when soldiers began returning from operational theaters with catastrophic injuries, but before those injuries were really on the radar of the general public.In 2008 I met Marine Mark Ormrod. A really handsome guy, super fit and fun to be with who had unbelievably lost 3 limbs just 4 months earlier. He was agile, full of banter & had just got engaged to be married. He was with a couple of other injured blokes that had lost limbs too & the way that they were managing their recovery was extraordinary. It frustrated me that at that point injuries like these were kept quite under wraps by the MOD. It's not politically helpful to reveal the true cost of war and so casualty figures were carefully constructed and distributed.
I felt at the very least these soldiers and marines should be recognised for their courage and survival. It is true that loss of life and horrific injury IS the cost of conflict (amongst other things) but at the very least let's see that, understand it and support it as best we can. The general public weren't being given that opportunity. Things have changed a great deal since then and with amazing charities like Help for Heroes thrusting the plight of these men and women into the spotlight we are now much more informed and aware.
I see this project as taking that understanding to another level - Bryan's images dare you to have a good look, to examine the injuries & from that I hope viewers will ask more questions and think not only about how those injuries were sustained but how lives have been changed as a result - and not just for now...what does the future hold for our wounded servicemen and women?Q Was the book difficult to put together?
A You wouldn't believe how logistically challenging it was at times! Soldiers have appalling admin! I imagined they'd be super efficient, reliable and organised but so few of them actually were!Originally we planned a shoot with 20 or so guys who were all at Headley Court, the rehabilitation centre at that time. Naively I thought the MOD would support the project and assist the blokes in terms of transport and timings but civil servants there were adamant the project would not go ahead and they blocked it at every level they could. We left it for a year & I began again by approaching soldiers who I had previously met that I knew had since been medically discharged. As time progressed I met more soldiers & some even approached us to participate. Only one person that we approached declined to participate, everyone else jumped at the chance which tells you something about the 'head on' approach these guys take in all that they do. There were also a number who wanted to be part of it but we weren't able to reconcile availability, Bryan's schedule is crazy - pinning him down was pretty tricky too!
Those that feature in the book were not specially 'selected' rather I was able to find them and they were up for doing it. When it came to editing down the book we concentrated more on making sure we were representing most kinds of injuries as well as types of uniform etc. What occurred when we were doing this was that at the beginning of the project there were an number of servicemen who would feature but were yet to be injured and that was very sobering.
Q All images are moving, which ones do you feel reflect the spirit of the project?
A There are a handful of images that I think reflect the spirit of the project really well, Joe Townsend as he prepares to get up from the floor - his strong muscular body, defiant tattoos and smile! Mark Ormrod in just his boxer shorts (he did not have to be persuaded) - he looks like a miracle. Ricky Fergusson in his No.1 Dress with his Military Cross pinned to his chest. So proud and with such steel. And finally Rory Mackenzie who appears to shrug his injuries away with his typical humour, a joke and a laugh.
The charities supported by the Wounded. Legacy of War book are BLESMA (a national charity that supports Service men and women who have lost limbs or eyesight during combat. BLESMA services include helping the wounded get access to prosthetics, counselling, grants, and advice on going back into employment after injury), Blind Veterans UK, formerly St Dunstan's (a national charity that provides blind and vision impaired ex-Service men and women with lifelong support including welfare support, rehabilitation, training, residential and respite care),
Combat Stress which counsels soldiers with psychological wounds for example: depression, phobias, anxiety, relationship problems and, in some cases, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, SSAFA which offers help to members of the UK armed forces and also to their families and those dependent on them and War Child, a small international charity that protects children from the brutal effects of war and its consequences, currently work in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq and Uganda. They support vulnerable children by convincing government officials to spend more money on child protection and advising governments on how to achieve this.