NINA BERMAN: The war had just begun. It was the Spring of 2003. And, I would hear on radio and on TV, reports of soldiers being wounded. But I was never seeing any images. And so, out of a really basic journalistic and photographic curiosity, I wanted to track down who these soldiers were who had been wounded, what it means to be wounded in this war, and how they were doing once they had gotten home.
There are no lists of these wounded soldiers, I've never found one. So, what I did was I went on Internet search engines, and I spent hours, and hours plugging in words into Google, like "amputee," "brain damage," "arm," "leg," "local soldier comes home," things like that. I would get the small town newspaper stories about the local boy who had been wounded in the war. And so, usually in these stories, there would be a politician's name, or sometimes banks were taking donations for these soldiers. And I would just call up anyone listed in the story to try and get a phone number for the families.
I didn't want to photograph them in public situations. I wanted to avoid the homecoming parades or the pinning of the medals by generals. I didn't want to do any of the spectacle about the glory of war, or anything in this regard. I wanted to do something really personal...For this reason, I really wanted to see them at home, see them in the settings where they grew up, and where they made their decision to enlist.
As a very young journalist, I did a story about Vietnam veterans who went back to Vietnam. They were one of the first groups back, and I followed them. And aside for that trip, which was a remarkable trip in so many ways, I had no experience with the military. I don't come from a military background. I don't have any brothers or uncles who are in the military. And so, this for me was a real education to see what this so-called military family was all about. And if it extended to the soldier after they had been wounded.
I absolutely became obsessed with this project. I started out one week, and I photographed two soldiers, both who were blind. And they both lived in Western Pennsylvania. When I drove back to New York, after meeting them, I was wondering, "Can I really continue this project?"
I wasn't prepared for their physical injuries. I wasn't prepared for how fragile they looked...But then, I felt such a personal sense of responsibility. I'm a citizen of the United States. I'm a photographer. I'm a journalist. If I didn't do something to cover this war in a way beyond what I was seeing on the television, which to me was more like a reality TV show than anything really honest about what happens in war, then I myself would feel complicit in the horrors that were going on.
I eventually interviewed and photographed 20 soldiers from all over the country, from Maine, to Florida, to California. Some I photographed at veterans hospitals. Two I photographed at Walter Reed Military Hospital in Washington. I photographed two soldiers at an Army base in Kansas. And all the rest were in little towns, big cities. I think a good cross-section of America. There were 19 men and one woman.
PURPLE HEARTS images courtesy of Redux Pictures.