Suzanne Opton’s “Soldier” billboards censored just before GOP convention

An article published in today’s New York Times (New York Edition) reports on some last-minute censorship of anti-war billboards scheduled to be displayed in St. Paul during the GOP convention next week.
On August 8, CBS Outdoor signed a contract to post five billboards showing portraits of volunteer US soldiers taken by New York photographer Suzanne Opton. In the portraits, the soldiers, men and women, look dazed, confused and even traumatized — they had just returned from war in Afghanistan or Iraq, and were scheduled to go back to war in a few days.
Just days before the billboards were supposed to go up, however, the contract got cancelled — with little chance that Opton can find alternative public space to display her simple and poignant message.
opton-soldier-billboard-lensculture-new-york-times.jpg

A photograph that filled a billboard in Denver this week will not find its way onto billboards in Minneapolis and St. Paul. © Suzanne Opton

“It’s about engaging the public,” Opton said. “We just felt that people don’t know the sacrifices made by the military and a small handful of families.”
“Can we see it on a person’s face when they’ve seen something unforgettable?” she asks. “What I wanted to do was take an intimate and vulnerable picture of a soldier. They may look troubled, but it’s not easy to be a soldier. Why should that be hidden from us?”
Did the GOP media manipulation machine squash the deal? CBS Outdoor spokesperson Jodi Senese didn’t answer that question directly. “We don’t object to the program or the art,” she said. “Our only concern is that people driving on highways at 55 or 60 miles an hour, seeing an image like this popping out of nowhere, it could be disturbing.”
Yes. Precisely. That is the intent. As John Lennon said, “Give me some truth.”
An identical billboard was displayed in Denver during the Democratic National Convention without controversy.
Opton’s series of Soldier photographs appeared here in Lens Culture earlier, along with a great audio interview with the photographer. The New York Times links to the Lens Culture interview with Opton in their online edition. If you haven’t listened to her, you should check it out.

Leave a Reply