Toy Soldiers

Toy Soldiers

Simon Brann Thorpe, 2012 Finalist

A work-in-progress involving a creative partnership with a Sahrawi military commander and Polisario soldiers posed in the desert as life-size toy soldiers. The judges were impressed with the creativity of Thorpe’s concept and the surprising images that resulted from the collaboration with the 4th military region of Liberated Western Sahara.
Photographer's Statement: 

History can show us limitless examples of human conflict but as a general analysis one tends to find a progression of war, an end to war followed by a resolution. In more recent times, however, one could argue the emergence of the more modern tactic of non-resolution. Toy soldiers as the core concept of this project is a metaphor for the effectual war games and the tactic of non-resolution played out over successive generations of men, women and children born into such conflicts. It is in this context that ‘Toy Soldiers Project’ attempts to create a dialogue on a unique view of modern conflicts in stalemate. It explores the impact and potential consequences of such tactics through the real soldiers born into an historic cycle of post-colonial conflict, displacement and perpetual non-resolution as told here through the situation in Western Sahara. At its heart Toy Soldiers Project is a unique collaboration between an artist, a military commander and the men under his command. Consisting of three volumes Toy Soldiers was shot entirely on location in the hauntingly isolated and beautiful territory known as ‘Liberated Western Sahara’. Volume 1: An engagement with the landscape and timelessness of the Sahara Desert as if viewed through a window onto uncharted land bearing soldiers posed as toy soldiers. As if trapped in time they bear witness to a haunting landscape that bears only the physical scares, landmines and unexploded ordinance of war as testament to human existence. Juxtaposed within this land stand ‘Toy Soldiers’ motionless and mocked by the lack of any opponent or objective. Like pillars of impotence they stand as unwitting players on one square of an international chessboard of non- resolution. Volume 2: Full length ‘Toy Soldier’ portraits, where the line between ‘toy’ versus ‘real’ becomes more apparent as each individual soldier is represents through the context of involuntary role play both in their geo-political situation as well as through a conceptual art project in which they find themselves. Volume 3: A portrait series of most of the soldiers involved in the project, where each image is taken with the soldier’s eyes shut, illustrating the human side to the refugees of non-resolution. Placing the viewer as voyeur these images become graphic portraits of human vulnerability to the dormant existence brought about by conflict without end. Influenced by the historic works of photographers such as Mathew Brady, Roger Fenton and Edward S Curtis, Toy Soldiers aims to further blur the boundaries between document, landscape and concept based photography into a contemporary archive on the issue of non-resolution in modern conflict.

Simon Brann Thorpe
simon.thorpe's picture
Simon Brann

After graduating from ACA 1995 with a degree in photography, Simon and his father drove across Canada, with the whole house packed in a U-Haul truck, to Kingston, Ontario. Soon after, he jumped on a plane back to the UK where his photographic practice was established - The landscapes of Canada and his childhood still continue to profoundly influence his work. Simon currently lives in London.