Read This If Anything

  By John Veldhoen


The Camera Store has acquired several copies of a book for sale, by Brian Adams, entitled Wounded. Proceeds from this book go to support five charities, and I will list them as links at the end of this review. I am troubled with what to write about this book. As I cited in my last entry for The Camera Store, concerning curator/historian/photographer Gerry Badger’s assessment of Danish photographer Jacob Holdt’s subjectivity, his pictures of homeless, poor, addicted people, sometimes words overpower images. It was once remarked that what can be shown cannot be said, and I am confronted by this most profoundly with Wounded.  

The photos by Adams are by-and-large technically excellent, and the publisher Steidl has made a beautiful book, as they always do, the highest quality photobooks in the world are published by Steidl, and this is no exception, the printing and binding are superb. The book was edited by Caroline Froggat, a journalist, who was assigned to a residential facility created to rehabilitate soldiers injured in combat, these injuries are unlike what were experienced in previous conflicts, due to revolutionary advancements in the battlefield treatment of trauma, as a wounded soldier today can survive injuries once untreatable. Froggat goes about giving each soldier his or her voice, unobtrusively. Their stories are both painful and exalted, concerning both ruin and reconstruction. All of them are English, having served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and each one tells a story that is different, but as I read through all of their stories, they also merged as one. Military officer, commander-in-chief, Lord Richard Dannatt, is quoted in the book, saying,  “The lens has captured images that defy simple logic, humble the bounds of conventional understanding. These soldiers stand tall — in body, bind and spirit — they are an inspiration to us all”. 

An acquaintance asked me recently why anyone would want to buy a book of pictures of grievously wounded soldiers, and it occurred to me that if I took out the word soldier, and replaced it with person, there might be a reason more readily accessed, perhaps due to the extremity of the circumstances it may seem removed everyday experience to look on these kinds of injuries, but then people do not always show their wounds on the outside, and not all those suffering from physical wounds suffer them because of the circumstance of war. The strength, and the beauty, the vulnerability and weakness, all at once, these pictures unveil, I think may come to inspire and help all kinds of people. 

There exists an argument in certain circles between those who say that subject matter matters, and a side that says material matters. This is to say that subjectivity, principally the person on the other side of the lens (I always remind myself that a lens is also called an objective) is the subject, and really is the photograph, and this view is contrasted by those who hold that there is a bigger arrangement of historical forces, thesis and antithesis, that happens as the context to the relationship between camera and subject, informing, as they say, the bigger picture. So much so that the place of truth is bound to be subject to the latter idea, so that the big things surround the little things. I think this may be part of the truth, though I would construct a different view of history than the one typically made to illustrate the point of view. As a book, Wounded epigrammatically declares at the start, “In war, truth is the first casualty”. It may interest the reader the quote supposedly derives from the tragedian Aeschylus, but I cannot find the citation where the ancient Greek author actually said it. Let it be known, I have little sympathy with the materialist view. What does it matter if Brian Adams is a rock-singer and photographer? Does it matter why, or how, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken place? For any given soldier, do the choices made on a given day matter? The what-ifs and what-could-have-beens of causality make casualties of us all. These questions to the materialist sensibility would be aporias, wounds themselves, sutured by the progression of history. The photographs of men and women, courageously battling the greater battles, carrying on, wearing new limbs, prosthetic new creatures, mean nothing to this view. 

The main view holds true, instead, that the wound itself is ahistorical; any wound is suffered by anybody. The wound pre-exists the wounded and finds itself incarnated, just as a scar is significant of a wounding and the fact of being wounded. Any ethics of photography (or anything else) takes place in the present for me. This is the way I have learned to look at things, and looking at the book Wounded, I feel so much strength coming from the courage of the subjects gathered within. Fearful strength, because I am publicly writing this, and I know that I have been weak in my own life, and have not lived to the example of selflessness that I see when I look through this book, and I fear that I may not be able to either, if required. But somehow, in the selfless and fearless display that Adams’ the photographer works to make, for each of the subjects that he confronts with his camera, I am confronted by both the need for, and the exemplar of how to be selfless, and fearless, myself. What else can this be, but the highest form of art? 

Adams’ work will be on view in Calgary in an exhibition entitled ‘Exposed’ at the Glenbow Museum of Art in February.

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In addition to being on our sales team, John curates The Camera Store's book selection and is a contributing author of our blog. He likes to think about photography, talk about photography, and sometimes write about photography.