In 2013, one photographer captured a series of portraits of British soldiers taken in an 8-month span of time. These illuminating photos were shot before, during, and after their deployment in Afghanistan. Displayed as triptychs, these 3-paneled works send a powerful message. How does war affect those who are in the midst of it? As with most aspects of life, the face shows all.
Lalage Snow created the portrait series, titled “We Are The Not Dead,” which garnered a lot of attention. Though she started the photographs around 2010, their impact is still being felt today. The first panel in these images was taken before combat, in barracks in Edinburgh. The second panel was during mid-deployment in combat-addled regions of Afghanistan. Finally, the 3rd panel was taken in barracks once more, after combat, when most were on their way home.
“While I was actually shooting them sometimes I didn’t notice the changes in their faces at all. They were the just the same guys as before, to me, just more tired and a little thinner,” Snow says. “Through the interviews I saw a more nuanced and psychological difference across the board, and a strange sense of calmness.”Lalage Snow, Wired.com
While Snow has allowed for the photos of these soldiers to speak for themselves with the subtle changes in the subjects creating their own story, she also conducted interviews.
Portaits of Soldiers Before, During, and After War
1. Second Lieutenant Adam Petzsch, 25–years old
March 6th, Edinburgh: “I suppose I am a bit apprehensive but I want to see what it is really like.”
June 19th, after IED: “It was my first IED incident and first casualty. You don’t think about it ’till afterwards though as your priority is getting the guy away and back into safety. Then you start thinking about what happened, if it was preventable, if it was your fault in anyway and how the others are doing.“
October 10th, Edinburgh: “We took over a new compound and if we ventured any more than 2-300 metres we got shot at. At the start of the tour you could patrol kilometres away and no one would touch you.“
2. Private Dylan Hughes, 26-years old
March 11th, Edinburgh: “I am not afraid of going out to Afghanistan. It’s my job at the end of the day, But I am afraid of messing up and someone else dying.”
June 17th, after IED: “I was stunned after the explosion. And then we were contacted by Taliban snipers. It wasn’t a nice feeling. I think even I will be at breaking point soon though.”
October 6th, Edinburgh: “I think we are just fighting a losing battle to be honest with you. But it’s not my place to say. I don’t know about the politics side of it.”
3. Private Becky Hitchcock, 23-years old
June 13th, before deployment: “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.“
June 19th, after 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.“
November 2nd: “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.”
What do you think of these portraits so far? Can you see any changes in their faces? One aspect of war is how it affects a person psychologically. After looking through all of these portraits, we can agree that no one left the same as they were when they started.
4. Corporal Steven Gibson, 29-years old
March 11th, Edinburgh: “I am afraid of not coming back home. I have two children and a third on the way in August and I love them and my wife more than anything in the world.”
June 10th, just before IED: “A lot of the guys have bibles with them – they know it’s a split second from going from bad to worse. This place opens your eyes up. You hear op minimize come one and it brings it all home. You know that somewhere a soldier has been badly injured or worse and you think about their families. So reading the bible, well it is like trying to make peace with someone, the big man upstairs.”
October 15th, back injury from IED explosion: “...3 hours later, boom. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like… you know when you are about to faint and you get that fuzzy feeling… I never heard the bang but I went up and over. Everything was fine until 10 minutes later when the adrenaline stopped. It was like someone had stuck something in my back. I fell to the floor and was just in agony… Without a shadow of doubt, I am still finding it hard to adjust; I still look back. I’ll go out for a cigarette and constantly thinking about Afghan.”
5. Private Jo Yavala, 28-years old
March 9th, Edinburgh: “I am going to miss my family. I have been to Iraq before but not Afghanistan“
June 19th, after IED: “It was the first casualty I have seen. It was pretty awful. I saw the medic treating him, He had no leg. I went back to where it had exploded and then saw his boot floating in the water. Just an empty boot.”
October 10th, Edinburgh: ” I was scared. Especially when in contact, you don’t know what will happen. I was expecting the worst. Right now I feel a little bit angry, sometimes my temperature rises very quickly especially if I stay too long inside. Sometimes I miss being with all the guys. For the first few days, I had difficulty sleeping. I dreamt about different things that happened in Afghan. A few nights I woke up crying.”
6. Private Chris MacGregor, 24-years old
March 11th, Edinburgh: “Obviously I’ll miss family but other than that I am going to miss my dogs more than anything. They are my de-stressors and keep me sane.“
June 19th, after IED: “ It still hurts when you hear about a soldier dying. You think about what their families are going through. You ask what they died for and what we are achieving here. I am not sure anymore. That Afghan soldier losing his legs just now… I don’t know….”
August 28th, airlifted from a knee injury: “My legs just gave up. I think it was the weight – 135 pounds or something. It just had to accept, my body was telling me to give up as I had pushed it. I was telling it to go, it was telling me to stop. When squaddies come back they still have a lot of adrenaline and anger in them. I had to have anger management.”
So Many Emotions
Some people have implied that Snow created this photo series of portraits with a defined dialogue in mind. However, she states that is simply not true. Each and every one of these photos is open to interpretation of the viewer.
“I didn’t set out with an agenda, contrary to popular belief,” she says. “All I set out to do was give a voice to some of the guys on the ground. While I was actually shooting them sometimes I didn’t notice the changes in their faces at all. They were just the same guys as before, to me, just more tired and a little thinner,” she told Wired.com.
You can see more of Lalage Snow’s work by visiting their website. Much of the focus is war and the effects it has on both sides. The portraits she takes are captivating beyond words, and we’d love to hear what you think.