Photographer Brian David Stevens' portraits of war veterans

War veteran by Brian David Stevens

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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."

War veteran by Brian David Stevens

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.

War veteran by Brian David Stevens

"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.

War veteran by Brian David Stevens
War veteran by Brian David Stevens
War veteran by Brian David Stevens
War veteran by Brian David Stevens
Phil Coomes Article written by Phil Coomes Phil Coomes Picture editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Lovely pictures. The Kingdoms of experience fading away.

    On the other hand why have we had 24/7 coverage on nearly every BBC Channel this year. Remembrance Sunday is not exactly news. Worthy of respect and comment, yes, but dominating the entire week - even on the Antiques Road Show? Smacks more of government inspired propaganda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    I think an exhibition of the millions who didn't survive would be better - they are the ones who really lost out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    It was ordinary people who won the war. Why are ordinary people letting our world go to ruin at the hands of the rich and powerful? It is people who make this country. The wars didn't win our freedom, they were just part of the process, but we seem to have forgotten. The good people (and the few good rich and powerful ones) need to carry on the fight. We could stop the greedy. We stopped Hitler.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    ""The passing of time....." an enemy we all face.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Comment number 19. Sandy Harlestone-Smith
    13th November 2011 - 6:37

    The freedom to post such drivel with impunity for s start.

    Just a quick history lesson. The UK has never been invaded. The the last time Britain was invaded was in 1066, so your last sentence is a bit nonsensical.


Comments 5 of 114



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