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Suzanne Opton by Jean-Christian Bourcart

I met Suzanne Opton in 2008 at FotoFest in Houston where she was presenting her series “Soldier“. After several attempts, she found a squadron that would allow her to take pictures of their young soldiers returning from Irak. She had the idea – it must have seemed strange to them- to have the soldiers place their bare heads on a table. Close ups of these beautiful faces in pastel color presented several interpretations. A sentiment of gentleness, vulnerability, proximity, but also something a bit morbid in their empty stares and the absence of any emotion provoked a range of reactions for spectators. Ever so distany from war photography, these pictures seem to share the soldiers’ personal dramas and attest to their difficulty to reintegrate society.

Suzanne presented the series at a variety of locations, including Denver during the republican campaign of 2008. Contracts had been signed, everything was negotiated until the posters were refused under the pretext that the soldiers looked dead. Her story provoked a national debate, with Susanna’s defense describing her desire to show that vulnerability exists among the troops. “Why hide it?”

If I am mentioning this episode today, rather than simply highlighting Suzanne’s talent and charm, it is because I feel it is important to share the precious moment when a photo story provokes a public debate (similar to Erich Salomon, Lewis Hines, Eugène Smith à Minamata, Abu Ghraib…). When Suzanne began the series in 2004, she had no idea that her work would provoke heated debates about freedom of expression, revealing the subtle censorship, particularly in wartime, that prevent us from being objectively informed about the world surrounding us.

Jean-Christian Bourcart

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