Earlier this week, we installed two striking new photographs in the Museum’s American Identities galleries on the fifth floor, Soldier Claxton and Soldier Mickelson. They are part of a large series of soldiers’ portraits by the New York-based photographer Suzanne Opton, who photographed the soldiers on their return to the United States from service in Afghanistan and Iraq. She met with them at the army base Fort Drum, NY, where they were stationed between tours in 2004 and 2005. Asking them to rest the head on a table (apparently none of the soldiers refused), she shot their horizontal faces close up, against a dark background. In an uncanny fashion, the heads look almost disembodied, and with every detail revealed – you can even see a wandering eyelash under Soldier Claxton’s eye – the thoughtful and tranquil faces appear vulnerable and exposed.
I am usually in favor of hanging images low on the wall, and in this particular case I feel it made even more sense. It not only facilitates for children to approach the pictures, but also, on a general level, it reduces the barrier between the viewer and the work, and creates a sense of almost being in the same space, next to the two soldiers. I think the portraits make a great addition to the American Identities galleries and they will remain on view until the end of this year.