In 2015, Claire Felicie made a photo reportage of Dutch soldiers and combat veterans during their annual pilgrimage to Lourdes by motorbike. The friendships formed during this project led to a second photo reportage, in which Felicie portrayed fifteen veterans in a dilapidated weapons factory at the Hembrug site in Zaandam. The place is a symbol of the suffering of former soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The exhibition by Claire Felicie in Museum de Fundatie in Zwolle consists of fifteen black-and-white photographs showing fifteen combat veterans of varying ages. All of them took part in UN peacekeeping missions. Some were sent to the Lebanon, others to Bosnia or Afghanistan. Wearing camouflage trousers and bare-chested they lie on a wooden stretcher in the dismantled space of the weapons factory. Their partial uniforms show one half of their identity, a shared identity as proud members of the Dutch armed forces. Their uncovered bodies show the other half, that of a human individual, vulnerable and alone.
In the former soldiers whose eyes are visible it is immediately apparent that an inner conflict is being played out. As windows to the soul, their eyes betray different emotions: anger, despair, mistrust, fear, resignation, sadness. One of the veterans has his back turned to the camera, revealing a tattoo across his shoulder blades which spells out the Latin saying 'Vulneratis Nec Victus', meaning 'Wounded but not defeated'. The text neatly sums up what Felicie's pictures are about. They are the reflection of a slow healing process, one which will probably never be entirely complete. A war trauma is a wound that goes on bleeding.
Felicie used a large-format camera for her series. Taking a picture with this type of camera requires a lot of time and patience. It is precision work. Both for the photographer and for the people portrayed, this meant that the photo sessions were an intensive affair, made even more charged by the personal conversations which took place. As such, a condition for the project was great mutual trust and respect. Felicie compares the way in which the series came about to a ritual, in which nothing is without meaning. Although she will never be able to completely fathom the deep suffering of those portrayed, her methodology did allow her to come close.
Apart from portraits, Felicie also took pictures of the old weapons factory which had become overgrown with weeds. Everything carries traces of destruction and decay. In Museum de Fundatie, details from these photos serve as the background to the pictures of the combat veterans
Signature: Affixed - Certificate
Museum De Fundatie, Zwolle, The Netherlands
October 1, 2016 - January 15, 2017
Book: Only The Sky Remains Untouched - published October 2016
Artist / Amstel Gallery