The faces of war

'Soldier' presents personalities away from the battlefield

News Critic

The exhibition "Soldier" presents a series of large-format color portraits of soldiers who recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.
"Soldier," "37 Presidents," "One Night in New York" and "Picturing Poetry"
Opening reception at 7 p.m. Saturday; exhibitions run through Sept. 15
CEPA Gallery, Market Arcade Complex, 617 Main St., Suite 201
856-2717 or

No matter what the photographer's slant might be, images of soldiers at war are inevitably emotionally charged by the knowledge that these individuals face, or once faced, life-and-death struggles daily. Any depiction of a soldier is instantly set outside the norm, transformed almost automatically into a picture of life in extremity, the figure at the edge of battle.

It's very difficult for the artist to strip away the war context - a demanding context that will grip the imagination and make the individual seem just another soldier amid a host of soldiers. The solitariness of the person is hard to portray, but photographer Suzanne Opton tries to, as intimately as possible, depict this elusive human individuality of the soldier.

In an exhibition simply called "Soldier," she presents a series of large-format color portraits of soldiers who recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. She aims to tamp down the political and social implications of her subjects to the point where the soldier emerges as a singular person with his or her own distinct characteristics, who happens to have been subjected to the all-consuming experience of war.

"We all experience strategic moments when we feel most alive," Opton says of these photographs. "These are the moments we will always remember, be they transcendent or horrific. After all, what are we if not our collection of memories? In making these portraits of soldiers, I simply wanted to look in the face of someone who'd seen something unforgettable."

Opton has exhibited internationally, her work in the collections of such prestigious places as the Bibliothque Nationale de France in Paris, and the Muse de Elyse in Lausanne, Switzerland. Her photographs have been published in the New York Times, Time, Newsweek, Fortune and other publications. Currently, she teaches at the International Center of Photography and the Cooper Union, both in New York City.

One of four new exhibitions that go on view this weekend at CEPA Gallery, "Soldier" will begin in the Passageway Gallery - the long gallery space that parallels the mezzanine balcony of the Market Arcade Building - Saturday evening with a reception from 7 to 10.

Also being celebrated that night will be "37 Presidents," prints by California photographer Lara Odell in CEPA's FLUX Gallery. Odell deflects standard context by quite another means. She creates digital portraits of the American presidents from Washington to Nixon by photographing the hokey plastic figurines that were generated during the Nixon years and hawked in supermarkets as toys inspiring patriotism at a time when patriotism was at a low ebb.

Jaishri Abichandani's subject is more arcane, if perhaps more personal. In a public art installation called "One Night in New York" in CEPA's Window on Main Street gallery, she will incorporate video, sound, kinetic light boxes and still photography to make what are personal portraits of Muslim drag queens, many of whom have suffered adversity in their home countries because of their sexual orientation. Abichandani, who was born and raised mostly in Bombay, India, calls this an in-depth documentary look at the lives of her gay South Asian friends living in New York City.

Then, in the Underground Gallery, is a show of work under the title "Young Photographers 2006." These are photographs taken during CEPA's youth education programs. Of particular note is a large display called "Picturing Poetry," a collaborative education project with Just Buffalo Literary Center.•

Going to see any of the exhibitions opening at CEPA this weekend? Give us your take in 250 words or less, and send it to or Gusto Comments, Newsroom, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240. Include your name and phone number. All submissions are subject to editing.