Claire Felicie investigates the effects of war on young marines during their tour of Afghanistan.
This story was originally published in October 2012.
The seed for this project, Here are the Young Men, was sown when my eldest son was enlisted in the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps. In 2009, one of his closest friends, who was also a marine, told us that he was to be deployed to Afghanistan the next year. As I observed his face, I wondered whether his facial features would undergo any noticeable changes as a result of the war.
In my life, I had noticed the manner in which grief affects people’s faces. I had seen my father’s face change after my mother passed away. As part of the project, I decided to create a subseries, Marked, that would portray young marines before, during and after their tour of Afghanistan. The first images of the triptychs were made at the army base in Doorn, Netherlands in 2009.
Three months into their deployment, I visited them at the Combat Outpost Tabar in Uruzgan. This was just a few weeks after an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) had killed two marines from the 13th Infantry Division. Their final portraits were made two months after they returned home.
Marked was an investigation. I did not know beforehand if there would be any noticeable difference. The men claimed to be unchanged by the war and at first I believed them. But when I laid the three pictures together, I saw subtle, yet profound changes in the faces of each marine. The changes themselves were not the same, while some men looked more mature, others looked harsher.
As the project continued, I gradually became aware of the mental impact of the warzone on the soldiers. As an outcome of my own series, I learnt a lot about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
I truly hope that we overcome the taboo of PTSD and ensure that it is seen and treated like any other ‘normal’ physical injury that a soldier might suffer. These young men fight for us. In return, we have the obligation to take care of them and treat them with love and respect.
While Approaching a Sensitive Topic
- It is important to get appropriate permissions before you shoot, especially while pursuing projects that involve military personnel.
- Researching an affliction will help you empathise with your subject and understand what they are going through.
- Always remember that you are sharing someone else’s story. They should not feel stigmatised or stereotyped as a result of your photographs.
About Claire Felicie
Claire Felicie is a Dutch photographer who started shooting professionally in 2001, after being a hobbyist for almost 20 years. She has documented the experience of the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps by travelling with them to Uruzgan, Afghanistan.