Photographer Stuart Griffiths, who recently went with Vice Editor Andy Capper to embed with the Paras he was once a part of, has been documenting the effects of war on British veterans for years, as well as other sobering issues like youth gangs in Liverpool. This month sees the arrival of his film Isolation, a documentary following a number of the hundreds of veterans who return home from war traumatized, injured, and a quarter of whom find themselves homeless. So you are a big movie star now Stuart?
Yeah. I can give you some recommendations of my favorite sushi bars in Beverly hills if you like.
Tell me about your new project, this film.
The film is about my work photographing veterans. It's a combination of all the stuff I have done surrounding ex-forces issues: homelessness, social exclusion, severe injury. Luke Seomore and Joseph Bull approached me a few years back now, they had seen some magazine articles and got in touch. We started by doing some sound recordings – I think the initial plan was to work on a drama based on the veterans' lives. But that changed because they wanted to do something on my work, which was great.
We had a lot of meetings, working out what was happening. After about three years we finally got it together to go and start filming. To begin with I found it quite strange to be in front of the camera, I found it hard to act natural, but they told me to just imagine I was off to the newsagents to buy a paper. But once it got down to interviewing the people I had been photographing I was fine, because that was what I had been doing already for years.
It was a sort of organic collaboration between the directors and me. People approached me in the past about my work and the subjects of it and I was always very reluctant to give any info about them, or contact numbers, because they were quite vulnerable people. So I didn't really help out those people in the past, but Luke and Joey were the first people to actually want my involvement in the project, not just to use my contacts. I welcomed that. They wanted to use the stills as well, it was a great vehicle for my photography.
So the film is a mix of new material, new interviews, and your old work- a sort of accompaniment to your past projects?
Yeah. And also it feels like it has preserved my work too. A lot of people ask if it is an ongoing project and I would like to say, "yes it is". But I think at the moment it has very much reached a level in the film where it is an experience, it has all been put together into that, an experience of the issues, without having some political axe to grind. Yes, but still – it is amazing isn't it that a quarter of service men returning home find themselves homeless. Why, given that you were one of them, and your extensive work with them, do you think this happens?
It's really easy. In the army you are trained to be homeless, you live from a backpack, move from one place to another. Coming out into civvy street is quite problematic, dealing with council tax, getting a deposit on a place to live – its very easy to fall through the cracks. But remember –it's not only homelessness as in rough sleeping that is a problem, but also sofa surfing and so on.
Is this a particularly British phenomenon?
No – the Americans have similar problems. I was going to try and go to Virginia to look into news reports I had heard about a massive forest there where a load of veterans had got together to live in a sort of camp. But it was too costly for me to get there. But yes, it's the same there. It happens very easily. A lot of the guys I know work in private security now – its about the only job they are in any way trained to do, unless they are fortunate enough to learn a new trade. Which is what I did, but I was very lucky to get into photography. I was part of that 25% for a time. How many of the characters in the film would a fan of your work recognize from your stills?
There were two edits of the film, the original was 64 mins the second was 74, there was a case study in there with Marian, a Gulf War veteran – which was done specifically for the film. We wanted to get a woman's perspective.
But there was Jamie Cooper and Simon Brown who I have worked with before. All the guys in the hostel we were invited into were all new though. There were guys there not up to much who were curious about what we were doing, when we told them they were more than obliging.
The Martin Compton piece in New York I sort of did off my own back. He had been flown over the the US for Veteran's Day. I had a few guarantees from papers so I could get the flight over there to be with him. But it was a story that was personally important to me, a British veteran flown over to the States. When I got back with all the photos, Luke and Joe asked if I had a photo essay we could use in the film, and I suggested that. It really fitted into the film, it also gave the Afghan War angle. It was great to have a vehicle for that work to be seen through the film.
So what is the next step? Where and how can we see it?
It is getting a cinema release through Picturehouse cinemas, starting on July the 14th in Greenwich and ending in the Duke of York in Brighton on the 1st of august, a sort of tour, with live music as well. I have always wanted to try and get it on TV or whatever, but they always want it to be part of a season of films or whatever, I hope that one day the film will be able to stand on its own.
I gave a copy of the film, once it was completed, to Ken Loach, and he invited me onto his film set, he gave us a quote on the film – I emailed asking for one and got a reply within ten minutes. He was great, he said he really liked it - it was great to get something like an endorsement from someone like that.
To find out more about the film, go to Picturehouse Cinemas.
The film is showing in these places, on these days:
JULY 14th : GREENWICH
JULY 15th : SCREEN ON THE GREEN
JULY 17th : FACT LIVERPOOL
JULY 18th : TYNESIDE NEWCASTLE
JULY 19th : HYDE PARK LEEDS
JULY 20th : YORK
JULY 21st : CAMBRIDGE
JULY 22th : OXFORD
JULY 27th : RITZY BRIXTON
AUGUST 1st : BRIGHTON