The photographer David Jay is a specialist in fashion and beauty, things that are “beautiful, sexy and completely false”, as he says himself. But that is not all that he photographs Three years ago, Jay began taking pictures of soldiers severely wounded after fighting in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Initially, you will find them shocking. However, the more you observe, the more beauty and humanity you will find reflected in each photograph. (The titles of the photos came from the Facebook page of Jay ‘Unknown Soldier Project‘).
This is the first lieutenant Nicholas John Vogt, of the U.S Army. On the 12 of November 2011, he was severely injured by an explosive device while he was in Panjwaii, Afghanistan.
We took these photos last weekend in the pool at the Walter Reed Medical Center. I asked Nicholas for his permission to publish these images, and this was his response: “The only thing that I want to convey is this: losing limbs is like losing a good friend. We would like to continue with them, but it is not so. The only thing you can do is get up, remember the good times and thank God for what we have left”.
“You can imagine how many times these men and women will have listened to a father tell his son: ‘don’t look at it intently. It is bad education.’ Taking these pictures so we can see what we are not supposed to see. We have the duty to see them because we believe them,“ said David Jay in an interview.
In addition to that let’s look at the darker side of the war, Jay also wants us to see these people and to think about their experiences and their everyday lives.
Last week I went to San Antonio, Texas. There I had the privilege of photographing Daniel Burgess and Bobby Bernier. Daniel stepped on an IED that caused him to lose a leg and destroyed the other. Bobby was hit by the artillery and suffered burns on over 60% of his body. We can see him with his daughter Layla.
This is Jerral Hancock. He was driving a tank in Iraq. A pump at the edge of the road pierced the armor of the tank. We took these photos two weeks ago at his home in Lancaster, California, where Jarral lives with his two beautiful children.
“I can not thank enough the courage and the sacrifice that you have shown both on and off the field of battle, the men and women of The Unknown Soldier. It is an honor to photograph them,” says David Jay.
On July 25, 2012, Cedric King, an Airborne Ranger, was severely injured by an explosive device by chance, while serving his country in Afghanistan. Due to the explosion, Cedric sustained a multitude of internal and external injuries that led him to lose both legs among other things.
“Cedric was doing a few laps while I photographed the first lieutenant Nicholas Vogt in the swimming pool at Walter Reed Medical Center last week. Cedric was watching us, so I went over to talk with him. Then Cedric said: “This man (Nicholas) you don’t know, but he changed my life.”
“There was a time when I was so depressed that I thought I might not pull through. One day I saw him swimming and thought: ‘wow… if he can continue like that, then I can too’. Cedric will also change the lives of people. He has already done.”
This is Michael Fox, a 27 years old Marine and an amazing man. On November 15, 2011, Michael was doing a patrol on foot in Helmand province in Afghanistan, when he stepped on a mine. This is the first picture of “The Unknown Soldier”.
This past weekend I photographed at the Sergeant of Staff, Shilo Harris in Houston, Texas. He came to San Antonio to see one of my exhibition, The SCAR Project (www.thescarproject.org).
Shilo suffered serious burns on February 19, 2007. He lost three men in his group. Only Shilo and his driver survived the explosion. He is going to publish a book very soon. He is truly an amazing man, and I am honored to be able to call him a friend.
The Library of Congress has acquired images from The Unknown Soldier by Jay as part of their documentation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a fact that speaks of the power of these images to capture the aftermath of the war.
Photos like these help those of us who remain at home to begin to understand the true human cost of any war.