Portraits of Soldiers Before, During, and After War

For her project titled Marked, photographer Claire Felicie shot close-up portraits of the marines in the 13th infantry company of the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps before, during, and after their deployment from 2009-2010. She then arranged the portraits into haunting triptychs that show the toll war has on a person’s eyes and face.

Marked by Claire Felicie (via lensculture)

Image credits: Photographs by Claire Felicie and used with permission

  • Anonymous

    I don’t see that, sorry.The difference in facial expressions is minimal and more or less inevitable.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like the before/after concept a lot, I just think that the result isn’t exactly striking. Smirk – no smirk,  is something you can do in one session. A little change of light and contrast and there goes the glow as well. You don’t need a soldier or even war for that.
    She should have gotten “better” faces for that special purpose. 

  • Nick

    no one forced them to go to war, so why should i feel bad for them?

  • Lolamadden

    I think the smirk comes from that boyish sense of them embarking on an
    adventure, that sense of the unknown. That’s what makes the during and
    after shot so moving. I personally get the sense that some of the
    during portraits show bewilderment, just
    trying to get through today and, most chillingly, intent focus. The most haunting and  upsetting for me is that there’s no relief in those after portraits.
    There’s no sense of, like, “OK that’s behind me now.” The third after
    portrait from the top, where he’s looking away, gives me the sense he’s
    reflecting, and it ain’t pleasant childhood
    memories he’s got in mind.

    Yes, the photos are edited. Those who suggest this project is slanted are correct, but are foolish to think any photo essay is not. Isn’t that what media is? Like, on a really basic level, aren’t we pointing out “Hey, look at this! Look at what I’m seeing here” [even if it’s *just* a magnificent sunset while on honeymoon].

    I buy it that Ms. Felicie spent time with these men, and chose these images to tell the story of what she saw, heard, felt, etc. If she didn’t and these images were, say, artistic renditions, could we blame her for creating a visual series that tells the story which we hear in the news about soldiers returning from war?

    As to comments about soldiers being paid killers who are not at all forced to go off to war, yes, one could make that argument. However, I would reserve judgement until I found myself in the situation of needing to put food on the table for my family and having to choose between an employer such as Wal-Mart, the drug dealer down the street, or the armed forces. I’ve been fortunate not to have been in that position.

    BTW Jamie Weir, ‘”I can do this” to “I had to do that”‘ is a very eloquent
    way to describe what you’re seeing in this series of portraits. Thx.

  • Carlos J Latonga

    Nice concept, bad execution. The rigors of combat and the effect on people is a tangible “before and after” experience that is being documented in very powerful ways right now. There was a great show at the Getty in LA of images from a MASH unit for the troops in Iraq after the invasion and it was unbelievable how much torment you could feel from the shots. But I could do this with football players before, during, and after a game. I believe there is a warrior dharma in this world and young men go through a transformation when they face the reality of war. I have seen the cold hard faces of men from special forces and I don’t need a before to recognise the resignation there. But these men still have smiles they can show and not all are victims of their chosen occupation. These images are so subtle that they reveal more about the viewer’s pre-conceptions than the actual horror of war.

  • Mortgoth

    The first and third photos are lit differently than the second frame, where here the photographer managed to light the eyes and each portrait (with the exception of the top one) is consistently illuminated from both sides, thus altering the shape of the face. I recall being taught in photography class that lighting on both sides was the method to create a more ominous portrait. Note the shadow line in the center of the nose and face which tells you where the light was placed. Not that this was intentional on the part of the photographer- the lighting on the 1st and third photos of each set is uneven across the board. Don’t read too much into the “dead” eyes in the third frames- they are in a shadow (as were the first, incidentally), with the lighting source directly above. It’s funny that although the second photos appear more open and “alive” due to the reflections in the eyes, people adhere to the concept of the toll of war, as was ascribed to the series, and choose to see increased torment as the series progresses.

  • Amy Patnaude

    it looks like the pictures were all taken with just different lighting…yes there faces look a little more worn…but yea…lighting is different in the second one which makes their eyes glow…and the last one looks really hazy…just saying i understand you change when your in war and such..but these pictures are not accurately portraying that because they are not in the same way each time..its like doing an experiment but changing the conditions every time you try it and saying you got accurate results

  • Zen Rider

    How can I explain the obvious. The difference is devastatingly haunting.

  • Meluda

    This isn’t about different lighting.  Some of you truly don’t understand.  I’ve sent my husband off to war three times, and I’m about to send him off for a 4th time next summer.  Every picture of him taken in the dessert, no matter which country, shows his face tan, weathered and dirty!  My husband does not get to take a shower every day.  Or even every other day.  Sometimes he must go a week (or longer) without showering, and his main source of bathing comes from Wet Wipes.  Add the dirt to the constant glare of the sun AND the fact that there is sand everywhere, and his face changes.  He’s covered in sand, he’s covered in dirt and he’s got the sun on his face.  This isn’t about different lighting.  This is about being weathered during war.  Yes, my husband is in the profession of arms.  It is NOT for everyone and I don’t expect people who did not choose this profession to completely understand why soldiers choose the life they do.  My husband is not a killer.  He has not killed anyone. We are not asking ANYONE to feel badly for us.  This is what he wants to do.  This is what he loves.  This is the life he chose.  Don’t feel sorry for us.  Don’t feel bad for us.  And is he different when he comes home?.  You’d better believe it.

  • truthsayer 1

    How could you not be different returning home as a still young man after seeing others killed, maybe your best friends, maybe women or children.  Maybe after killing others.  

    The first set of faces is calm, at peace, maybe smirking, maybe smiling; the second set shows a kind of alertness, a hypersensitivity, a embodied presence in the moment.  The third shows an absence.  Nobody is home in some of those last faces, the eyes are hooded or blank, the expressions hidden.  

    My late husband fought in Viet Nam.  He was a photographer and writer who was almost drafted off the streets of Haight Ashbury in the 60’s after completing his B.A. and becoming a hippie.  Instead, as an Air Force brat, he enlisted and took documentaries of action for the U.S.  I have his writing from before and after.  He was a loving, open man who came back closed and haunted.  Every night of his life, his voice ramped up as he dreamed and unless I was awake enough to stop him, began screaming.  He never talked about what happened there and he never watched a war movie.  

  • guest

    imagine how the innocent dead people from iraq, afghanistan etc feel.

  • TL

    I think some people are missing the point.  Nobody is arguing whether or not war changes you because everybody agrees it does, and devastatingly so.  

    I have to agree with the people above that between the differences in lighting and selection of shots, it doesn’t fairly depict the affect of war.  In basically all of these shots I feel if the 2nd and 3rd images were swapped, I would still read into it the same way.  If you walk into something already knowing what you hope to find.. you will find it.

  • TL

    But hey.. people are talking about it so I guess that’s a win for Claire.

  • Dave

    Unfortunately it looks too much like the photographer forced her agenda. People that come back from war still have the ability to smile, smirk, laugh, frown, and have  blank gaze. It is actually really unfair to anyone who has survived war to suggest that they are forever frozen in this dead stare. The photographer created the idea in her head and then used photography to perpetuate the lie.

  • Scott Nelle

    Look at the eyes. Forget the minimal changes to the rest of the face. The change in the eyes tells a story, and it’s not the same for each man.

  • ai

    from left to right they look relaxed, alert, detached.

  • LittleFeistyOne

    The difference, Dave, is that your friend has had decades to process his emotions and reconcile (or not) who he is with the things he had to do at war. These men haven’t had that time and it’s obvious on their faces. Aside from the lighting or processing I see distinct differences in the set of these men’s eyes. Trauma changes people and commonly those changes are evident in the eyes. 

  • Dave

    You, also, have been duped by the photographers agenda. Even modern soldiers have the ability to show more than one emotion. To say they can only be photographed with sullen expressions is doing them no favors.

  • Sebastián Soto

    It’s kind of funny how you talk about different lightings, when I only see that in the middle photo. If I forget about that one, and only look at the first and the last ones, I see the powerful change in their eyes.

  • Laochailan

    I’ve read through the previous 68 comments (which, as of this moment, is all of them), and seen several different viewpoints. Some have been critiques of technique, some have been comments on political agendas, some on the effects of war itself. There have been comments in support of war, and those against it. There has been ignorance and opinion, some positive, some negative.

    What I have not seen has been the thoughts or opinions of someone who has actually *been* in combat, in war. (I do acknowledge those posted by wives and family, but there is still a factor of remove from the experience.)

    I am a veteran of the first Gulf War, back in 1991. I have both done and seen things that have made substantial changes in my life. I suffer from PTSD. You could ask my family if I changed between the time I saw them last and the time I came back from the war. In every instance that I can recall the answer has always been that I had. You could ask my wife if I still have nightmares after twenty years. I still do.

    There are differences in the portraits. I see them despite the high contrast (which, to be honest, I am not a fan of, but I understand why the photographer chose to use it). I won’t try to tell you what those differences are, since many others have done so in those 68 comments. If you cannot see them, if you choose *not* to see them, that’s just the way it is for you. This in no way does not mean they do not exist at all.

    War changes people. Combat changes people. Sometimes that can be seen in photographs. Sometimes it can’t. I think Claire Felicie has something here, and has chosen to present it in a manner that highlights something that is often very hard to see in the first place. I applaud her efforts to do so.

    I’m not a follower of this site, and only comment here as a result of another friend linking to this piece. Commenting is not something I do often. Sometimes, however, I feel it is important enough to bring up a viewpoint that perhaps hadn’t been considered.

  • Recovering Democrat

    The eyes are always brighter, wider and expressions are most alert in the “during war” photos. 

  • Saddened

    Wow, I am amazed at the lack of compassion and empathy of some of you.  That is pathetic and obvious that you have never seen anything horrible happen in your lifetime.  Sad, just completely sad.

  • Dave

    What’s sad is you people that think their faces are stuck this way. NEWS FLASH: Soldiers returning from war have more than one expression! And they even still remember how to smile! And they are NOT turned into robots! Be fair to them please, and be a little more intelligent for the rest of us!

  • Xxxkupo

    They all lost the smile that was shown in their eyes

  • Samedamnbeaver

    am ex air force crew chief you can see it the eyes

  • Frank

    It never ceases to amaze me how insensitive, stupid, or just plain ignorant some people can be.  If you cant see the obvious differences in their eyes alone, why even bother to comment and waste everyone else time, and show your ineptitude to boot….furthermore, whether the military member is from the U.S., Canada, or wherever, we are all working together as a team for a common goal.   

  • Barry Rutherford

    I see a definite difference .  a look, a kind of cynical attitude ingrained into the facial expression

  • Eyore109

    Just an idea, but maybe you could focus on the point the photographer was trying to make. We all know that soldiers can smile and laugh and even live normal lives after war. No one is that stupid. I think the point that has been quite well made is that they went to war as hopefull, happy optimistic young men who smiled easily, and when they returned, they were less so.

    Surely that’s really the only point?

  • Dave

    If you read some of these comments you will see that yes, some people ARE that stupid.

    ” maybe you could focus on the point the photographer was trying to make.”

    What you have pointed out is exactly what I have been saying: The photographer had an agenda and forced it with these images. You could easily reverse the order of these images, or even randomly mix them up, and it could represent the fleeting expression of that moment. Your expressions change drastically throughout the day and can include any of these looks, before, during, after or even if you have never been to war. The photographer started out with a concept….preconceived. She then went about taking pictures to support her preconceived idea. The photographer has duped you and others into believing that war has altered the soldiers ability to ever smile again….and that is not fair to them. Some people take bait easier I suppose.

  • Dave

    Congratulations, you bit the worm the photographer dangled in front of you.

  • Hugsyaback

    I can see the hopeless,pure disgust,regret, loathing, and indifference.
    The third soldier changed the least because you can still see the humanity in his eyes a quality I think the other might have lost to save their sanity

  • Peter

    None of these men were forced to join the military.  Heading to Afghanistan or Iraq is NOT the same as enlisting to zee Germans in WWII.  If they didn’t want to kill people, why did they join?  Is it just me, or are people stupid when they say things like “talk to a person who has had to kill someone?”  NO ONE has to kill anybody.  They choose too.

  • Peter

    Flash was used for effect in the middle photos.  In other words, this photographer injected their own biases and feelings into what could be a great project if done properly and if it adhered to proper documentary techniques (same camera, same light, same time of day, etc).

  • Brian Kruise

    Anyone else mad that the title says soldiers but the photos are of marines? I know most marines would be.

  • vega

    Too much editing, but the message gets through, the result is haunting. You could expect for them to seem worse during war… but it’s in the last picture that the’ve lost something, really, really important, they are NOT the same. It’s those eyes…..

  • Crispncleancuts

    Taking life for granted,+Taking life for country=a life with no soul,ive never been to war or the military but i know this becuase my father has no soul ,his father had no soul wwll ,veitnam i didnt know them before but the trauma that was passed des own makes me an expert on those eyes again ive seen no forein combat yet at 42 i struggle to be succesful wich am and have been everystep of the way of my life but not without battleing demonds of hopelessness and insecurity and lack of confidence so i had to buid up hope confidence and a beleif in myself that had i not had to endure the physycle pain of both of ther post traumatic stress syndrome i would have been ona smoother path to my exsistance i am a buisness owner who is engaged to another succesful buisness owner i pay my taxes am an expected father after all these stressful years ,so why am i faceing my second felony strike? Even though i work hard to be a upstanding figure of my community “WHY” could someone please tel me “WHY” no one talks about children of war like me ,why did an aquantince of mine same age who saw deseart storm take his life ?when my father stil has the streangth to carry on perspectivly normal & my fathers father died of natural causes….could someone tell me whats wrong with this picture?

  • Liberty for Life

    I was military, did a tour in Saudi in the 90’s, and am female.  I have looked at my own pictures in many different life situations before, during and after my service. I remember vividly the 1st time I noticed a lack of emotion in my own eyes in a picture.  It was a casual picture, at my parents’ home with friends & I was “smiling”.  However, I was dismayed at the “dead” look in my own eyes. It upset my mom as well. 
    I absolutely joined voluntarily. I did not come from a “military” family following in someone’s footsteps. I did, however, come from a proud American family. I was (and still am) very proud that I volunteered to serve my country.  I do not ask for pity, hand outs, or pats on the back. I served my country in spite of the fact that many of the citizens I served to protect were apathetic or even hostile towards me.  I served for my family who supported me growing up, for my children and grandchildren to come, as well as friends I’d grown up with and those I hadn’t met yet. 
    I know very little about photography and lighting so I cannot offer an opinion about the validity of these photos. I do know that in every artistic venture, whether it is in painting, writing, clay, or photo imaging, the author’s/artist’s personality and opinions WILL bleed over into the finished product whether it is intentional or not. We should take that into account any and every time we appreciate someone else’s work(s). 
    In my personal opinion, it is quite thoughtless and rude to publicly criticize something created by someone else.  Whether we agree with their views or not, we should give them the same respect and kindness we would want. Unfortunately this is the internet, and it has a certain cloud of anonimity for us to hide in. Hiding like that we can fall into the tasteless habit of being overly critical, and careless with our opinions without a second thought about the person we are offending. This does happen without forethought and intent most of the time.  However, once made aware, it is up to us to correct the behavior in ourselves and make amends as necessary. 
    I am not saying that we must always be agreeable and adopt others’ opinions as our own.  In fact, I am a firm advocate of holding fast to our beliefs and values.  However, it is not wise to dismiss or attack others’s beliefs and values just because we can be anonomous on here.  We should conduct ourselves as though the people we are writing to, and about are in the next room reading it and we will be face to face directly. 
    Finally, I am a right-wing, conservative mother of 3 wonderful children. As my children grow, I encourage them to make their own choices and follow their own career paths. When the topic of military service comes up, I do not/have not/ will not disuade any of them from pursuing military service.  I believe I gained a lot of insight, education, experience, and maturity during my tour. I did not face death and I did not have to kill anyone. However, I was faced with hand to hand combat, the suicide of a fellow servicemember, threat of death from the enemy without, held at gunpoint, and berated by superiors, peers, and enemy forces. As a woman, service in Saudi contained an added element of stress and danger unknown to most men. Although I certainly do not want my children to have the same experiences or go to war, I want them to value the freedom that comes from being an American. Part of that freedom is making choices for our own futures.

  • Lostboy

    No offence but I disagree with you entire statement. And to be honest I think you either play too much call of duty or are just a plain insensitive dude. Some people don’t have the luxury of finding a 9-5 job  so they enlist not really knowing what they are getting into. Sure they have an idea but the actual horror of war you and I both cannot imagine. Its pretty easy for you to type that wack statement while youre sitting at home in a comfy chair, but you throw in the fact that these people have witnessed some of the most horrific images one could never imagine bullets wizzing by your head. Children being blown into pieces, mass rapes, defiling of bodies the list goes on. When someone shooting at you its kill or be killed. Dwell on that for the day. I mean really dwell on that.

  • Lostboy

    Any idea where I’d be able to find this documentary?

  • Spellbreaker68

    Compare the first and third ignore the middle the contrast is quite stark …

  • daboss_42

    you are a retard first of all. all of my brothers and sisters were in war, and not everybody kills people in war and some people are forced to go into war.that was a horrible statement and dont talk what you dont know.

  • Gaturrrr48

    being as you have some wacko remark and obviosly have no intelligence……..maybe you should try going to the front lines in a war sometime………then tell us all how just you’re hair has changed……….idiot

  • Gaturrrr48

    in every middle photo….during war…their eyes stand out……….if you can’t see that……..have YOU’RE eyes checked

  • Jbarant_313

    I think this was a wonderful project that she did and quite creative. I am a United States Marine. I have been there. I know the change that you intelligent people see in their faces. For those of you who don’t and have insensitive remarks, take your foolish comments else where. War changes people. Going over seas, even if you see no combat, changes people. I am not the same person, nor will I ever be, I was before I went to the sand box. Their expressions are something I know very well, because I look in the mirror at one every single day.

  • planecrash

    I can’t tell a difference in any of them. They all look like killers to begin with.

  • fee1710

    Of course there is different lighting the first and last is done at home probably in a studio. the middle set is during so off site, in the dessert either outside in the blazing sun or in a darkened tent that had to be lit harshly. Studio lighting and lighting one would bring with them while traveling is of course going to be different.

  • fee1710

    Again the first and last photo’s were taken at home probably in a studio with access to all kinds of equipment. The middle one is different for obvious reasons. Its offsite with different equipment, different conditions either outside in harsh light or in a dark tent/building completely different from the first and second studio photo’s.

  • rockinrod

    I agree with your accessment…Eyes tell the story…I spent 12 months in a Combat Support Unit During the VN War, not near the same affect as as the ones in front line combat, but it still took it’s toll depending on the MOS or AFSC specialty…I was a wore out rag time I got back home.

  • Sir_Elton_Juan

    The only difference was the light.

  • Lawrence DeVore

    I can’t see a pattern. I can’t read anything into these photos other than the middle ones show a tan. I’m apparently terrible at reading faces

  • Dave

    This is just a big stroke job. The soldiers knew the nature of the project and acted accordingly. The photographer forced her agenda. I know people that have been through war and still suffer from ptsd. Some times you see them smiling and some times you don’t. The results of the concept were determined before the images were even taken. If you fell for it then you are a fool.