top of page

Suzanne Opton

Soldier: Birkholz - 353 Days in Afghanistan, 205 Days in Iraq

Dec 12, 2020 at 07:58


When I saw your photo for the first time, I was immediately attracted by the tranquillity that the image radiates. In times of visual deluge, and a research period in which I look at many images, this image made me pause. First of all, I find this is a very nice quality in a portrait - when it inclines you to look longer. It invites you to enter into a relationship with the person you are looking at. I find your photo very powerful in its vulnerability. It is a picture in which the soul resonates; the way in which you capture the gaze of the man gives his image a great attraction. As a viewer you want to know his condition; what is he thinking about? By placing his body laying down, it seems to me as if you are removing all ego - taking his armor, his shell, off (I only found out afterward that he is a soldier). He is very much in the moment, mentally moving as if looking into the future by simultaneously reflecting on his past. May I ask you how you came up with the idea of ​​having the man lay down and how you got him to have himself looked at in this way? In other words, would you like to share something about how the relationship between you, as a portrait maker, and the man came about?

Dec 1, 2020 at 20:08

Hello Karel,

This is one of a series of portraits I made with permission from the military at the Fort Drum Army base in Watertown NY. Since we no longer have a citizen army, I was curious to meet the people who volunteer to serve. I brought two 4x5 setups. ​To begin with, I made head and shoulder portraits of each soldier in a fashion similar to the portraits that are published after a soldier has died. These were shot on B&W Polaroid film, with no American flag in the background. ​We spoke during that session and then I asked each person to move to the second set up and lay his or her head on the table. It was an awkward pose and it took me time to adjust the camera and lights. Since the soldier could not move during that time, I thought his or her mind might wander. What they had seen, what they had done or not done. I imagined it as the image of a soldier shot down, but I did not explain my intention. I did not speak at all. The light on the head was a nod to where this might happen - in car lights, moonlight, wherever. The images are exhibited quite large. Like the head of a fallen statue. They are intimate like we see our lovers or children in bed. Every portrait photographer has their own technique of interacting with a subject. My practice is often to create trust and not to speak but simply collaborate with the subject in finding a pose.

Thanks for the question, Suzanne


Recent posts

bottom of page