Tracing Entities - Aftermath of War

Christel Thomsen

2018 - Ongoing


The work 'Tracing Entities - Aftermath of War' is a collection of different segments from a greater body of work created by Christel Pilkaer Thomsen.

The project explores different issues of identity, memory, and representation centering around contemporary political problematics and how photography can represent and visualize these issues. First and foremost the project wants to explore the boundaries of photography and what is possible to visualize through the photographic medium and different photographic processes.

In the first chapter, the presented work deals with trauma and healing from war - especially, the psychological complications that people who have been exposed to traumatic events are faced with and the issues they are encountering on their return back home. The main focus in the first chapter is on people who have served in war and/or warlike situations.

Therefore, the project is based on personal stories and encounters with Danish veterans who are dealing with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and on collective responses to trauma. In relation to this, the work wants to explore how photography can be used as a tool to visualize the non-visible and non-verbalized woven together by the personal narratives of the subjects and abstractions created by the artist. Through different strategies by working collaboratively and having conversations with the subjects involved in the project, through traditional analog portraiture, documentary photography, and through abstract and alternative photographic processes the work creates a constant shift between figuration and abstraction.

Furthermore, there is a constant battle between what is being exposed to the viewer and what is still hidden and not accessible in the project. The importance of the work is established and enhanced by the process of both collaborating and engaging with the subjects, by the use of materials and by the photographic processes. Here a dualistic relationship is created between what has been exposed and developed, the physical and the psychological, the whole and the broken, the personal and the abstract, and the result and the process.

The work will continue and develop in the years to come when new chapters will be created and added to the work.

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  • 'The Scar':
    'The Scar' explores the relationship between the wound and the healing of the wound, and it is made through an alternative photographic technique in the darkroom. So even though this looks like a piece of metal, it is just a photographic piece of paper, that has been through an alternative process.
    The idea comes from experiments with paper and the way paper holds a memory of whatever happens to the paper. If for example, one makes a crease or a fold in a piece of paper even though one tries to smooth out the fold, the paper will never look or feel the same again.
    Even though this piece of photographic paper has a big crease in it, it still holds value. This relates to how often veterans who are diagnosed with PTSD lose their 'value' in the military since they often won't be allowed to work or go abroad on missions. This lose of value is also reflected in how society often looks at the 'wounded' soldier like an object that has been broken.

  • 'Jimmy I'
    Jimmy started his career in the military as a very young man. He was in his early twenties when he was sent out on his first mission to Croatia in 1993 and the year after to Bosnien. He has since then been on multiple missions both for the Danish military, The Danish Air Force and with NATO.
    Overall Jimmy has spent over 20 years working in the military and he has recently been diagnosed with PTSD which he is now working through.

    'Danish soldiers generally have great psychological health when they are sent into international conflicts. But during the first three years after the soldiers have returned back home, the numbers of both psychological and physical problems increase.'

    (Statistics references from the Danish Center for Veterans - Veterancentret)

  • 'Peter I'
    Peter is dealing with severe PTSD from his time in military missions during the Balkan-wars.
    Peter is photographed in his home in Denmark, where he has a big workshop for building and painting military tank-models. This place is a sacred place for Peter and a place where he can relax and be by himself.

    'The incidence of PTSD in Danish soldiers varies depending on the nature of the missions and the degree of impact. Therefore, the Danish Center for Veterans (Veterancentret) cautiously estimates that about 10 percent of Danish soldiers who have been sent to international conflicts develop symptoms of PTSD or severe depression as a result of their missions. Today those 10 percent would be equivalent to more than 6,000 Danish veterans.'

    (Statistics references from the Danish Center for Veterans - Veterancentret)

  • 'Allan I'
    Allan has been working in both the UN in Irak in the 1990s and later as a driver for Dansk Flygtninge Hjælp - a Danish humanitarian organization - in Croatia.
    Allan is today dealing with PTSD and he has recently started his elucidation once again.
    'Altogether, nearly 17% of returning soldiers have either received a psychiatric diagnosis, purchased medication for mental illness, or been in treatment for substance abuse - without having been registered for any of these things before they left for war.'
    (Statistics references from the Danish Center for Veterans - Veterancentret)

  • 'Allan's House I-IV'
    (Before the deconstruction of the house.)

    In the fall of 2018, Allan went through a big depression caused by his PTSD. Around the same time, he also bought a big old house in the outskirts of Denmark that he is going to reconstruct and rebuild mainly by himself.
    In this segment of the project, Allan's house becomes a visual metaphor for the work Allan is also simultaneously doing on himself through his elucidation for PTSD.
    The house becomes a psychological space that can be deconstructed and reconstructed again just like the mind.

  • 'Allan's House V-VXIII'
    (During the deconstruction of Allan's house.)

  • 'Allan II'
    Portrait of Allan taken in the back yard of his new house 5 months into the renovation project.
    While Allan is renovating the house he lives partly in a van in the back yard where he has his kitchen and partly inside the house.

  • This here is Allan's temporary living situation while he renovates the old house he bought last winter.

  • 'Jimmy - Gas Station I'
    The two pictures with the title 'Jimmy - Gas Station I & II' refers to a situation that triggered Jimmy's traumatic memories from his time on missions and was the beginning of his PTSD.
    Even though all of Jimmy's traumatic experiences from war happened many miles away from his home in Denmark. It was when an accident happened close to home, that Jimmy started getting nightmares that mixed up his traumatic memories and the reality he was living in.

    These pictures become in-between state between reality and traumatic memories, or even a form of freudian dream-memory.

  • 'Jimmy - Gas Station II'
    In my project, I am trying to engage both the conscious and the unconscious mind not only of the subject but also of the viewer, and of the photographic medium through different experimental techniques, which might be more abstract in their way of portraying trauma than conventional photography. To me trauma is not a dead thing like an object; it is something that is constantly changing. Therefore, in the project I am not interested in portraying something that-has-been but something that-is - something that exists in the present.

  • Installation of the work at the group-exhibition 'Zeitgest' at the Capa Center in Budapest. At this exhibition I chose to focus on one of the three veterans that I have worked with during the last year and a half. Since the project consists of many different segments, visual strategies and perspectives the exhibition in Budapest is to be looked upon as an encounter with the work at a certain point in time and place.

    In my project, I want to investigate what we can see and the things we might not be able to see - the visible and the invisible textures of trauma. I am interested in how textures of trauma can manifest themselves in a person, a place, and an object. And how these subjects, places, and objects can be visualized through photography.

  • Installation of the work at the MA Photography degree show at Royal College of Art 2019.

    In my project, I am working with the wound as an entry point, both on a physical level but also on a more metaphorical and abstract level. The trauma is both a wound and something we try to treat, heal and repair. In this lies a duality in the sense that the healing or repair of what has been broken draws attention back to the injury - back to the wound. In the project I am mainly interested in how the traumatic experience afterwards defines the individual who experienced it and how it changes his or her identity.