Article by Angelina Shah
To be honest, I am not one to be easily attracted to photojournalistic images. It reminds me too much of the reality we face day in and day out. However, not long ago, I was surfing online when I came across the works of this immensely talented photographer and journalist named Lalage Snow.
She is quintessentially a war photojournalist. Some of her works include Plight of Afghanistan’s Women, No Man’s Land, Turmoil in Bangladesh.
However, her eight month long project titled ‘We Are The Not Dead’ is what initially caught my eye. It is a series of triptychs on war soldiers; a juxtaposition of three images of soldiers before, during and after wartime. The before and after shots were taken in an army barrack room outside Edinburgh, while the wartime images were taken in Afghanistan, hence the blatant change in lighting.
Apart from just showcasing the images of these brave men and women, she also included quotes of each of them from before, during and after the war. The change in tone and matter is obvious.
For instance, this is what Private Becky Hitchcock had to say:
13th June, PB Khamar, the day before Operation Tor Lari Pakawal: “My civvie friends think I am brave but I don’t see it like that at all. It looks so bad on the news but it’s alright really. I was scared just before leaving the UK — I didn’t know what to expect. I haven’t been scared here but I know there will be times when I will be.”
19th June, Compound 19, Nad Ali, after the IED: “The first casualty I dealt with was just a shrapnel wound but the Afghan one this morning was serious. His eyes were wide open but his face was just white and I thought he was dead. But he grunted. Me and him were exposed to the firing which was really scary but I managed to drag him on the other side of the ditch. He had lost his right leg above the knee — it had completely gone. His left leg, I went to pick it up around the calf but every bone was shattered. The skin of it was under his back so I had to pull it down. It was thick like leather. It smelt…it’s a hard smell to forget. I can’t even describe it. Just burnt, rotting flesh.”
2nd November, Derby: “A day after that IED it came over the radio that the Afghan soldier was in intensive care but stable. That was the best feeling ever. A few months later I treated a little boy with burns to his whole body. He was dead tiny, a lovely looking lad. We made him stable — stable enough to get to Bastion. But two days later his body went into shock and he died. They had to return the body for us to hand back to the family. Carrying him dead having carried him alive two days previous… it was a weird feeling. But it’s part of the job. I think I have grown up a bit, and see the light a bit more. I don’t think I take things for granted as much as I used to. It makes you appreciate what you’ve got and how little others have but still get by.
Some say that Snow is glorifying war, as the men and women appear more alert and defined during the war. However albeit what is said, she states that she is not a war junky. What she has attempted to show is the psychological transformation of these soldiers from before the war to after it.
It is clear, the transformation of these soldiers with once innocent expressions to the gaunt sullen men and women they became in less than a year. The dilated eyes in the post war images are what truly capture the essence of what these soldiers have been through.
Snow states, “”It was a very personal project and stemmed from having embedded with the military on and off for 4 years in Iraq and Afghanistan and bearing witness to how many young men return as shadows of their former selves and, in many cases, with deep, psychological scars. As the body count of British servicemen killed or wounded rose and the political ramifications of the British army’s presence in Afghanistan became increasingly convoluted, more and more soldiers felt like they didn’t have a voice, or at least, weren’t being listened to. We Are The Not Dead is an attempt at giving the brave young men and women the chance to explain how it really is.”