Only The Sky Remains Untouched
In 2015, Claire Felicie made a photo reportage of Dutch soldiers and combat veterans during their annual pilgrimage to Lourdes by motorbike. The friendships formed during this project led to a second photo reportage Only The Sky Remains Untouched, in which Felicie portrayed fifteen veterans in a dilapidated weapons factory at the Hembrug site in Zaandam. The place is a symbol of the suffering of former soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The series Only The Sky Remains Untouched consists of black-and-white portraits showing fifteen combat veterans of varying ages. All of them took part in UN peacekeeping missions. Some were sent to the Lebanon, others to Bosnia or Afghanistan. Wearing camouflage trousers and bare-chested they lie on a wooden stretcher in the dismantled space of the weapons factory. Their partial uniforms show one half of their identity, a shared identity as proud members of the Dutch armed forces. Their uncovered bodies show the other half, that of a human individual, vulnerable and alone.
Felicie used a large-format camera for her series. Taking a picture with this type of camera requires a lot of time and patience. It is precision work. Both for the photographer and for the people portrayed, this meant that the photo sessions were an intensive affair, made even more charged by the personal conversations which took place. As such, a condition for the project was great mutual trust and respect. Felicie compares the way in which the series came about to a ritual, in which nothing is without meaning. Although she will never be able to completely fathom the deep suffering of those portrayed, her methodology did allow her to. Felicie also took pictures of the old weapons factory which had become overgrown with weeds. Everything carries traces of destruction and decay.
A photo book with these series in a beautiful design by Sybren Kuiper, is now for sale.