Jessica Hines retraces her brother’s experiences, helping her process his death

View Gallery 16 Photos
Reading Time: 2 minutes

“As I grapple with what took place, I hope that the project allows the viewer a more intimate encounter and insight into the aftermath of war”

Jessica Hines was a child when her brother Gary went to war. He was drafted into the US army, landing in Vietnam on 04 November 1967, the day Hines turned eight. Without their primary caretaker, Hines’ ill parents sent her to live with relatives, instantly shattering any semblance of home. Gary survived the war, but suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, a decade after he returned, took his own life.

My Brother’s War is Hines’ attempt to process his death. When she finally dared to open a box of Gary’s belongings, which she’d hidden away for years, afraid of the painful memories it might evoke, Hines “became overwhelmed by curiosity – and then a sense of obligation – to tell the story”. Employing his photographs and letters as a starting point, Hines retraces her brother’s journey, piecing together a deeper understanding of his experience. 

The Imagingings #16 © Jessica Hines.

From attending veterans’ reunions to travelling twice to Vietnam and locating the areas where her brother was stationed, Hines confronted her own loss and sought personal closure in the process. At Chu Lai, where Gary worked as a crew chief on Chinook helicopters, the desolate, stormy landscapes seemed to embody her state of mind. By incorporating her thumb or shadow into the images, Hines reminds the viewer of her presence throughout, enmeshing her experiences with those of her brother. 

The artist’s greatest challenge was photographing the invisible: how to picture someone who no longer exists and capture unseen trauma? Hines’ resulting experiments embrace serendipity, employing techniques such as light play and magnification to create otherworldly, ethereal images that give the illusion of memory. Frequently she incorporates metaphor. In one image, inspired by a dream related to her by one of Gary’s army comrades, Hines superimposes her brother’s portrait over a Chu Lai night sky sourced from Google Earth. His reflection in the dark reservoir below seems to symbolise the unconscious, something that Hines is continuously drawn to in her work. 

The Transmutation of Memory #22 © Jessica Hines.

Through highlighting her brother’s story, Hines brings attention to an invisible aspect of war, which ultimately proves just as deadly: the battle that endures in people’s minds long after the physical event has ended. As Hines gravely notes in her book, it’s been said that more people who served in the American war in Vietnam committed suicide than were actually killed in combat – and the suicides continue, she adds. My Brother’s War is a raw and poignant record of this psychological toll, the consequences of which can be felt across generations. “It is my hope that although the work is so acutely personal, it will resonate universally,” writes Hines. “As I grapple with what took place, I hope that the project allows the viewer a more intimate encounter and insight into the aftermath of war.”

My Brother’s War is published by Dewi Lewis and autographed copies are available via the photographer’s website