Combat Stress will benefit from the proceeds of a new book by Canadian singer/photographer Bryan Adams, which pays tribute to the sacrifice of British soldiers who suffered life-changing injuries while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wounded: The Legacy of War, published today, is a collection of more than 100 photographs of 40 physically and psychologically wounded servicemen and women. The lens bears witness to each soldier’s scars, disability or disfigurement.
At the same time, Bryan’s photographs reveal the inner strength and bravery of the inspirational men and women who, in spite of their personal sacrifice, continue to live each day with vigour and dignity. The images come with haunting interviews providing a narrative to each person’s journey to recovery.
The book is the result of a five year collaboration between Bryan and ITN Deputy News Editor Caroline Froggatt. It was as a result of her work at ITN, in which Caroline produced several investigations on the issues affecting serving personnel during and after their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, that she was inspired to highlight the courage of the wounded servicemen and women she met.
Combat Stress talked to Bryan about his involvement with the project.
How did you come up with the idea to make Wounded: The Legacy of War?
I was approached by journalist Caroline Froggatt as she knew quite a few of the soldiers. After discussing it with her I agreed to do the project thinking that it might possibly be an exhibition one day. Five years later it’s a book, and a document to some the atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Why make a photobook? What message can photographs convey that words cannot?
I felt it was important to see some of what had gone on in these wars and we mustn't forget these people. Obviously this is only a glimpse of what kind of horrors people went through whether in the military or not.
Why did you decide to photograph British soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Over the past decade, we’ve all lived vicariously through the media with the wars we got dragged into, and with the exception of a few great charities very little is known about what happens to the people that are most affected by war. This book can’t possibly cover everything, and I would have had to go into the war zones to try and get all sides of the conflicts, but this cross section of men and women from the British Army gives us an idea of what people have had to endure. Most importantly to remember, these people got out with their lives but had to start again.
How did you approach telling the story, both verbally and visually, of each soldier?
The photos tell the story for the most part but we would chat and Caroline would interview everyone. During the photo sessions, some people wanted to show all of their wounds, others were hesitant and understandably so. You have to remember, for many of these people it was the first time they had ever been photographed, never mind exposing their wounds.
It took five years to make the book - did you have a constant and clear vision when creating the book of how you wanted it to turn out or did it evolve over time? If the latter, what influenced its development?
I had a clear idea how I wanted to portray the images but it wasn't clear it was going to be a book until two years ago when Gerhard Steidl very kindly agreed to publish it. That’s when the work really began because it needed a clear direction and, with the help of art director Sandor Lubbe, we sat down and did the layout. For example, I thought the book would be in black and white originally but Sandor thought the colour images were important too, so we have a mixture.
Before working on the book how aware were you of the psychological injuries that serving personnel and Veterans can suffer from?
Certainly not as much as I’m aware of it now. After spending five years working on this, seeing people from all walks of life and the way they are coping and dealing with the psychological injuries, hearing about how much therapy is involved, you can’t help but become aware.
Through making the book did you come to understand the issue better?
I’m most grateful to everyone that helped me to understand what it must be like to have to readjust to life and society after being injured. After experiencing every session with a different person with a different injury, some without legs in wheelchairs, some burnt with skin injuries, some very young that had been hit by an IED, some had been shot, some blind…how can you not get the picture?
Stigma is a barrier that often prevents serving personnel and Veterans from seeking help. How do you think the book will help in combating stigma?
Well, when you put it that way I suppose awareness is a part of the reason this book was created. In my opinion it’s important for people to see the reality of the war because it’s so close to home.
Why did you choose Combat Stress to benefit from the proceeds?
We chose different charities, some suggested to us by the subjects in the book and some we discovered from working so tightly with everyone. They are smaller than Help For Heroes but I think that is interesting.
When the public think of a wounded soldier they often imagine someone physically injured. The final photograph in the book is of a soldier with invisible wounds – why did you choose to end the book this way and what message do you want the photograph to convey to the reader?
Corporal Ryan Knight closes the book. It seemed poignant to end with Ryan because he, like many soldiers, came home after witnessing horrific scenes of death and destruction and was expected to just drop back into society, find work and act as if nothing had ever happened. No visible wound doesn’t mean you weren’t wounded.
Your book is called Wounded: The Legacy of War – what do you want the legacy of this book to be?
Wounded: The Legacy of War, photographs by Bryan Adams, Edited by Caroline Froggatt is available on Amazon, with proceeds going towards Combat Stress.