CLAIRE FELICIE - ONLY THE SKY REMAINS UNTOUCHED
PHOTO PORTRAITS OF COMBAT VETERANS
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. Integrated into the exhibition is La Guerre Japonaise, the monumental five-panel piece by Jan Cremer (1960) which the Foundation purchased two years ago. It is a canvas that unmistakeably refers to war in its violent application of paint as well as in its title. The similarities with the photos of the factory are striking and serve to further enhance the viewing experience, which will leave no-one untouched.