Photographer Brian David Stevens' portraits of war veterans

  • 13 November 2011
  • From the section In Pictures
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War veteran by Brian David Stevens

Eight years ago photographer Brian David Stevens headed to the cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday to take pictures of the war veterans who gathered as part of the commemorations which are held across the UK in honour of those who died in wars and conflicts.

Yet Brian is not taking pictures of the parade, instead he is making portraits of the veterans themselves, compelling photographs of those who have fought for their country.

"The vast majority of veterans are happy to be photographed once I've explained the project," Brian told me. "After the march past they tend to be more relaxed.

"The passing of time is an important part of the project, it is only a 10-day shoot, but spread over 10 years it becomes something different. Obviously there's a lot more pressure to get it right in these later years of the project.

"As the years pass the number of veterans from the World War I has dwindled to nothing and the number from World War II is steadily reduced, but their places are taken by other veterans from newer conflicts, who are also included."

Though each of those pictured must have a compelling story to tell, Brian has embraced the concept of the Unknown Soldier. "The viewer is given no information just a portrait," Brian said.

He added: "These faces then are as of unknown soldiers, no cap badges, no ribbons of spooling medals, no insignia for military rank. They are faces only. Each deep-etched with who they are and what they did, that we might look, and think - and thank them."

The pictures bring to mind the work of Steve Pyke, whose portraits World War I veterans first came to my attention back in the mid-1990s when they were on show at the old headquarters of the Royal Photographic Society in Bath.

Yet whilst those pictures are accompanied with some details of the subject, Brian's decision to use a black cloth to remove any trace of where the pictures are taken, and the lack of any captions is one that works surprisingly well. My initial desire here is to learn more of those who fought, yet somehow that would detract from the overall effect of the work and perhaps influence our reading of the photographs.

"All the pictures are lit with daylight and my assistant holds a piece of black velvet behind the subject," said Brian. "It is a very simple set up and I am currently using a short telephoto lens. It pretty much allows the viewer to concentrate on the face, without any distractions. I want the pictures to be uniform so it holds together as a cohesive set."

It certainly does that, providing the viewer space in which to project their own thoughts and offering of thanks to those pictured, and those who did not return.

You can see more of Brian's from work below and on his excellent blog, Drifting Camera.

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