Ellen Susan

Soldier Portraits

July 3, 2008 - August 3, 2008

Ellen Susan’s Soldier Portraits consist of unique, collodion positives produced on glass and aluminum plates. The wet collodion process was the primary photographic method from the 1840s through the 1880s (including the American Civil War). The people in Ellen Susan’s photographs are soldiers of the U.S. Army based in Southeast Georgia. The majority of them have deployed to Iraq one to three times since 2003. Many are in Iraq now. Others expect to deploy soon. Army deployments now last 15 months.

“This work is a result of my relocation to Savannah, Georgia, which is near two major army installations. I started seeing soldiers in uniform at the grocery store, the gas station, everywhere. I’d never really given soldiers much thought, because I rarely encountered them. I began to read in the local newspaper that many members of the local division were being deployed to Iraq for the third time. Looking into the impossibly fresh, young face of the uniformed kid in front of me at Home Depot and connecting that face to what happens in Iraq was a big shift for me in the way I thought about soldiers.”

“I felt that the the 150 year old collodion process could be a meaningful way to photograph contemporary soldiers, to provide a counterpoint to the anonymous representations of soldiers seen in newspapers and on television. The necessarily long exposures of this slow process often result in an intensity of gaze that asks the viewer to look longer, and the grainless, highly detailed surface brings out minute details of each individual.”

“In the end, I wanted to produce physically enduring, visually, emotionally arresting images of people who are being sent repeatedly into a war zone with no apparent end in sight.”