On the surface, the subjects of Hisashi Shimizu’s book Portraits of Silence are soldiers who perished during the Iraq conflict, indirect portraits developed from the perspective of the soldier’s parents. But Portraits of Silence is also about the desire to maintain the memory of a beloved, and the fight to keep a tangible presence of who they were while dealing with the grief of their loss.
After speaking to the soldier’s parents, Shimizu photographed the places and things described in the interviews. These places and things have become symbolic of the “missing” person and are maintained by the parents to preserve their memories. The book first provides color plates with only a caption to identify the soldier’s name. The last section of the book, ‘Profile,’ explains the importance of each photograph as it relates to the solider, in the words of their parents. I find that the captions in the ‘Profile,’ using the descriptive language of the parents, create a larger emotional context than the photographs alone. The text in the ‘Profile’ is provided in both Japanese and English.
This book is imbued with a sense of sadness. Perhaps it is because we know in advance that the outcome was not a good one, and the loss of a child is extremely tragic for a parent. That said, I think the photographs appear to be compassionate, intimate, and sensitive, treating what is shared – the things, places, thoughts and feelings – with reverence and respect.
An emotional rawness can still be detected on the features of many of the parents’ faces. That some chose not to face the camera and look beyond it is perhaps an indication of their current state of acceptance, how they are continuing to deal with their loss. Of the others that confront the photographers lens, I sense anger, sadness, despair and sometimes what appears as an emotional deadness. Perhaps the presence of the photographer, his questions and dialog, re-opened the soul’s wounds.
by Douglas Stockdale