The contract however has been cancelled, with a Jodi Senese, executive vice-president of marketing for CBS Outdoor, the company who owns the advertising space saying:
"We understand that 'Soldier' represents a political art project, and that the individuals depicted are actual soldiers," "Out of context [neither in a museum setting or website] the images, as stand-alone highway or city billboards, appear to be deceased soldiers. The presentation in this manner could be perceived as being disrespectful to the men and women in our armed forces."
Suzanne Opton replied that;
"They don't look dead,"
"It's like you see someone opposite of you with their head on the pillow. We see our lovers and our children in that pose. They look like the heads of fallen statues, and they afford the viewer an intimate look at the face of the young person whose life is at risk, and that was the point.
"When you see soldiers on the news you have no idea who they are. They're representing the United States and they have all that gear on. I wanted to get past all that".
I personally can see how the photographs may appear to reference the image of a deceased person lying on a slab in morgue, but the faces - though largely expressionless - appear full of vitality and certainly do not look dead to me. Only the The colours in each soldiers face may also be part of the problem. It brings to mind the criticism that was once levelled against the Impressionist painters at the end of the 19th Century. These artists chose to add vivid greens, yellows, purples blues and reds to their pallete when rendering skin tones. This brought accusations that the people in their paintings appeared corpse like. In fact, if you look closely at a persons skin, it is abound with colours from across the spectrum, even when that person is very much alive and a long way from becoming a bloated decomposed corpse.
The decision to cancel the display of these images is basically censorship and the timing means that political motivation cannot be discounted. Jodi Sense claims that the decision was based upon how the billboard sized images might be perceived by a passing motorist and not by the intentions of either Opton or Reynolds - somthing discussed here.
Billboard, I-690 Syracuse, April-May 2006
~ Photograph © Xie Jiankun.
This at least is consistant with the idea that advertising and propaganda is supposed to tell people how to think and what to do. However, these photographs are not claiming any specific agenda. There is no specific message attached to these images and as a result the viewer should be left to make up their own mind about what these images represent.
This decision has already been taken by CBS, who seem to be under the assumption that the image of a soldier that may have some connotation to that of a dead soldier is one that will cause offense. A rather presumptive and vague assumption and one which in my mind shows a greater lack of respect for the soldiers photographed for this project and for the armed forces in general than that which Opton and Reynolds are accused of.
These photographs and the manner in which they are displayed are most definitely political. That much is obvious. In a country where free speech is protected by law, it seems that sometimes you can't even pay to get your voice heard.
See the project itself here.