Documenting Children and War

Keeping up with the news can be sobering, even depressing, especially when children are involved.  But every once in a while, a story grabs your attention like a slap across the face.  Like tonight.

I don’t know how many watch PBS’s “News Hour” ( https://www.pbs.org/newshour/ ), but a story late in tonight’s broadcast really brought home the impact of war on children.  WAR-TOYS is an art project to ensure children’s stories of conflict and loss get told through photography.  As their website describes it —

“Since 2011, toy photographer Brian McCarty has worked with children from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip on a photo series titled WAR-TOYS.  Boys and girls are invited to become art directors for Brian’s photographs of locally found toys, recreating their experiences through a deconstructive and disarming filter of play.  The project invokes principles and practices of expressive art therapy to safely gather and articulate children’s unseen accounts of war.

“The goal, above all else, is to responsibly engage potentially traumatized children in the storytelling process.  This begins through carefully designed art-based interviews, conducted in group settings and organized in partnership with NGOs and UN agencies.  Sessions are run by a specialized art therapist who travels with Brian.  WAR-TOYS has provided many children their first opportunity to begin processing their experiences in a controlled setting.

“In the sessions, boys and girls ages 8-12 are introduced to the project and invited to draw a story from their life that they want shared.  The drawings that the children create are the beginnings of longer conversations with the onsite therapist.  Her interaction with the children is key to understanding the true meaning behind their artwork.  Some important elements are buried – as if to protect them – in seemingly chaotic or even innocuous scenes.  Others are shown directly in stark images of daily life in a warzone.

“All of the toys used in the project are sourced from nearby venders, borrowed from the community, or created through group activities with the children.  The use of locally found toys and toy-objects is meant to provide subtle commentary on socioeconomic conditions and the parallel distribution of arms and consumer goods around the world.  In every war zone in which Brian has worked thus far, toy soldiers are as ubiquitous as AK-47s.

“The playthings Brian finds are photographed on location, typically within the current living conditions of the child and often at the exact spot where described events occurred.  His intention is to contextualize the children’s accounts and integrate the toys into the surrounding landscape.  To do this, Brian works almost entirely in-camera, using forced perspective and simple methods to place flying elements such as bombs and aircraft into compositions.  String or support tools are removed in post-production, refining what is an actual moment documented through the lens.”

And the extraordinary power of a well-composed image to make a point is demonstrated once again.  The website is https://wartoysproject.com/.  The photo came from that site.

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