For the past seven years, artist/photographer Jennifer Karady has worked with American veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to create staged narrative photographs that depict their individual stories and reveal their difficulties in adjusting to civilian life. After extensive interviews and a lengthy planning process, Karady collaborates with the veteran to restage a chosen moment or memory from war within the safe space of their everyday environment, often surrounded by family, friends and home.
The collision between or collapse of the soldier’s world and the civilian world enables the viewer to glimpse a fragment of what is going on in the individual soldier’s mind, evokes the psychology of life after war and the challenges that adjustment to the home front entails. The process of making the photograph is conceptually inspired by a form of cognitive behavioral therapy and is intended to be helpful for the veteran.
The multi-layered process of making each photograph takes between one and three months, and culminates in a highly choreographed installation/event, cinematic in scale. To maintain the truthfulness of the staged moment and the authenticity of the veteran subject’s participation, there is no digital manipulation. Each large-scale color photograph is accompanied by text, based on audio recordings, that consists of the veteran recounting his/her story in his/her own words.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have impacted, and continue to impact, virtually every aspect of American life and culture. While the wars have attracted vast media coverage, there has been relatively little discussion about returning veterans when one considers the lingering challenges that veterans face in becoming civilians again and the impact of this on millions of families throughout the country. By stimulating community awareness through a residency and exhibition on campus, as well as interaction with local veterans organizations, the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan will foster public dialogue around an important social issue.
With the help of the University of Michigan community and students, Karady will create new work in collaboration with veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of a larger, critically acclaimed national project, Soldiers’ Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan. Stamps students will be involved in the process and production of two new “staged narrative photographs” with sound installation and in the design of a “Listening Area” to include the stories of additional veterans.
Though the end products are large-scale color photographs with sound installation, the process of and concepts behind making the photographs draw from many disciplines. By combining documentary story seeking, fine art photography, narrative tableaux painting, performance and cognitive behavioral therapy/psychology concepts, Karady has developed a detail-oriented, personal approach to portraiture. This project will contribute to, and expand upon, the discourse around contemporary artistic practice as it relates to portraiture, staged photography, performance, documentary methodology and narrative form (visual, sound and text). Students will learn both technically and conceptually from this project, which will add to ongoing dialogue on campus about art’s ability to impact change for both an individual and society.
Oct. 10 — Nov. 12 at Slusser Gallery
Exhibition Opening Reception: Friday, October 10, 5 — 8 pm