Portraits say, “Here is my story”

February 1, 2019 by Legion Magazine
Corporal Gorden Boivin.
Stephen J. Thorne / Legion Magazine

The Canadian War Museum and Legion Magazine are collaborating on a new exhibition featuring haunting portraits of wounded veterans by writer-photographer Stephen J. Thorne.

Opening at the museum in mid-February and running until early June, The Wounded features 18 large-format black-and-white photographs of wounded Canadian veterans, primarily from the Afghanistan war. Most appeared in the magazine (November/December 2017) and at www.legionmagazine.com/thewounded, with additional images taken for the exhibition.

“I’ve been following Stephen J. Thorne’s work for a while now,” said the museum’s post-1945 historian Andrew Burtch. “We collaborated over a decade ago to produce the award-winning Canadian War Museum exhibition Afghanistan: A Glimpse of War. But the first photograph I saw from The Wounded series struck me immediately as important and a project worthy of a wide audience.”

Burtch said he was particularly taken by the image of Corporal Gorden Boivin (above), who is photographed bare-chested with his left arm marked by a thick scar from shoulder to wrist. “Strangely though, it wasn’t the scar that drew the eye. It was Boivin’s stance, his open arms, closed eyes and his uplifted face. ‘Here I am,’ it seemed to say, ‘Here is my story,’” said Burtch.

Mike Trauner with his wife Leah Cuffe.
Stephen J. Thorne / Legion Magazine

Underneath the photo was Boivin’s story, from the injury near Kandahar 11 years earlier and the tale of the physical and psychological trauma through his years of recovery.

Thorne is an award-winning writer, photographer, editor and broadcaster who has reported extensively from war fronts in Kosovo and Afghanistan. He had three assignments in Afghanistan in 2002-04, covering Canadian Armed Forces operations for The Canadian Press.

“I felt then, and I feel to this day, that it was the most important journalism I have done,” said Thorne. “Afterward, I was left with a gnawing sense that this work was unfinished, that my destiny had been tied to the soldiers I covered and it was unfulfilled.

“This project was my first proposal after coming to Legion Magazine in November 2016. I travelled the country to photograph and interview these dedicated, courageous soldiers,” he said.

Thorne said he was struck by the trust he found when interviewing his subjects. “They didn’t want the attention. They co-operated and collaborated out of an ongoing sense of duty and public service,” he said. “Their resilience, recovery and commitment moved and inspired me profoundly.”

Paul Franklin with his basset hound Achilles. The images are part of The Wounded exhibition opening Feb. 15 at the Canadian War Museum.
Stephen J. Thorne / Legion Magazine

An excerpt will accompany each of the photographs from the written portraits that appeared on Legion Magazine’s website.

Burtch said that some stories have been well reported but, “Others disclosed stories you normally don’t hear veterans talk about—their struggles with addiction, their family problems, the really low points when they thought they would not make it. Yet all of these were stories about the Afghanistan war, of the risks of military service, the loss of identity that can occur following a life-changing injury, the vital support roles played by military families, as well as the wider discussion over veterans’ care that marked the last decade.”

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