SOLDIER Billboard Project

SOLDIER Billboard Project

September 15, 2008 – November 3, 2008

Suzanne Opton is a New York-based photographer whose portraits document young American soldiers returning from wars in Iraq or Afghanistan (or both).Taken at an Army base, the photographs present men and women with their heads resting on a slab-like surface, facing sideways toward the camera. Opton did not offer any direction to her subjects, and the resulting images capture moments of calm, nervousness, alertness, and contemplation. The portraits are decidedly spare, and only the short haircuts of the participants suggest that they are soldiers. Their faces in extreme close-up are both intimate and overwhelming, with a strong sculptural presence. “Some of them look serene and some of them look shell-shocked,” said Opton. “They’re all terribly vulnerable.”

Opton’s development of an extensive billboard project which used her portraits combined with the word SOLDIER, helped change our abstract understanding of “the troops” into an awareness of and respect for the specific people who choose to serve in the military. Using the space of promotional ads, she raised questions about how war is sold, and political opinions are constructed. Her monumental image/text in public space offered a distinct alternative to images from current wars and conflicts that are barely visible in print and broadcast media.

Along with the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, other public art agencies presented the billboards timed with the presidential election in November of 2008. These venues included the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, Denver, CO; DiverseWorks Art Space, Houston, TX; and Forecast Public Art, St. Paul, MN.

Suzanne Opton lives and works in New York. Her work has been exhibited at museums and galleries including Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland; Michener Museum, Doylestown, PA; Peter Hay Halpert Fine Art, New York; and CEPA Gallery, Buffalo, NY.

The SOLDIER billboards were coordinated by Susan Reynolds, a New York-based art consultant. Support for the project was generously provided by The CrossCurrents Foundation, The Fledgling Fund, and Forecast Public Art. Special thanks to Betsy Nurse, and Denise S. Meng at Signarama and Billboard Connection, Atlanta.

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