I read through the other reviews of Nina Berman's Purple Hearts posted here, which all glow, until I got to the very first one, which gives the book one loney star. Obviously, the "truth" of photographs can be experienced very differently by different people.
To post a review of a book one has never even seen here on a book review site is curious, ridiculous and a dogmatic political act, the very tar with which the "reviewer" pretends to paint Berman. The review, such as it is, parrots the now very weary and increasingly diluted words "patriotism" and "heroes" with the now prerequsite sense of insult and outrage. One of the more remarkable things about the photographs (which are available to see when actually looking at the book) is how dispassionate they are. That is, removed of the photographer's own passions. You simply see the physical manifestation of the damage to each soldier. And that is their power. Viewers are left to imagine what kind of peace each of these formerly anonymous casualty figures will be able to make with the war that will be with them the rest of the days of their lives. Don't the best books rest in one's hands more as questions than answers?
This is a subject very close to me. I am a photographer who has worked in combat zones, as has Nina Berman, but in the end I was attacked in the United States by a half-dozen young men and nearly kicked and stomped to death. Like some of the soldiers in this book, I suffered a traumatic brain injury, which in my case left me unable to walk or to recall three simple numbers recited by my speech therapist. Like everyone else with a brain injury my emotions were no longer completely under my control and I would begin crying for no reason at all.
But I soon understood that there were reasons to cry. The worst thing about being injured by violence is how lonely it is, something survivors can recognize when we see it in each other's eyes. If you stare into the eyes of the wounded people on these pages you might see it yourself. When we are called heroes or "inspirations to everyone we meet" (only if we are fortunate enough to have a support system that will help us help ourselves back on our feet), we hear empty words spoken by people who think that surviving is something glorious.
What Nina Berman has done is to unflinchingly expose the human flesh that suffers along behind a comforting, fluttering, star spangled curtain. In that way, Berman's photographs ask each viewer if we, as a nation of very diverse people, are prepared to make peace with what each one of the people in this book has lost in war.