It’s not rude: These photos were meant to be stared at.
Photographer David Jay specializes in fashion and beauty, stuff that’s “beautiful and sexy — and completely untrue,” as he puts it. But that’s not all he photographs.
A few years ago, Jay began to take pictures of young, severely wounded soldiers returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Trigger warning: These portraits don’t shy away from wounded bodies.
Be prepared. I found them shocking at first. But keep looking. The more I looked, the more beauty and humanity I found reflected here. (The photo captions are from the Jay’s Unknown Soldier Project Facebook page.)
In a National Public Radio interview about his project, Jay said, “You can imagine how many times each of these men and women have heard a parent tell their child, ‘Don’t look. Don’t stare at him. That’s rude.'”
“I take these pictures so that we can look; we can see what we’re not supposed to see. And we need to see them because we created them.” — David Jay
Jay wants us to see, to become even a little familiar with the tragic loss of limbs and burned skin of wounded vets — his portraits are 4 feet wide — but he also wants us to see them as people and to think about their experiences and those of people in their lives.
“To the men and women of The Unknown Soldier, I can’t thank you enough for your courage and sacrifice … both on and off the battlefield. It is an honor to photograph you.” — David Jay
“The Unknown Soldier is about neither war or politics … but rather something infinitely simpler and more powerful.” — David Jay
The Library of Congress has acquired images from Jay’s The Unknown Soldier project as part of its documentation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This speaks to the power of these images in capturing war’s aftermath. But they are so much more than documentation.
Pictures like these help those of us who remain at home to begin to comprehend the true human cost of war.
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