© Guillaume Simoneau
Guillaume Simoneau’s new book, Love and War, recently released by Dewi Lewis Publishing, details his tumultuous relationship with a woman named Caroline Annandale as she enlisted in the U.S. Army, and went into combat service overseas. Using a potent mix of portraits, snapshots, and handwritten notes and other artifacts, the Canadian photographer performs a delicate autopsy of their entanglement.
“I only truly realized I had this body of work a year after it was completed in the spring of 2009,” Simoneau explains. “So in 2009, at the moment I got an unexpected text message from Caroline putting an end to our relationship, the vast majority of images had been done already.” The irony is that right before their on-again, off-again romance came to its sudden end, he was about to start working with Annandale on another project. Simoneau had just secured a grant for what was to be an examination of her re-entry into civilian life after deployment in Iraq. Hoping to salvage the opportunity, Simoneau delved into his photographic archive, searching for something that would point a way forward. It was then, with the finality of Annandale’s decision fresh in his mind, that he realized he had been taking photographs “the whole time” they were together.
The images from those eight years that made it into Love and War run the gamut: film photographs in multiple formats, screen grabs and flatbed scans create a collage effect. The “scrapbooking” also included the use of mixed media, and screen grabs of text messages and of e-mails. “The more I was digging into my archives, the more I found materials that were not intended to be part of my photographic practice but could inform the story,” he says.
“It resonated really strongly with me when I started pulling e-mails and text messages to add to the body of work, because I found that it was really indicative of how we communicate today.”
Annandale and Simoneau met in their early 20s at a photography workshop in Rockport, Maine, in the summer of 2000. They began a passionate romance and traveled the world together. The images from those early, heady days seem to be from a lifetime ago. Annandale is all flashing eyes and impish grins, youthfulness crackling off the page like an electric current. Then came September 11. It was the couple’s last night in Goa, India, where they had fittingly been working on “a project about hope” when they heard the news from the U.S. In a somber photograph from that night we see Annandale reading by the meager light of memorial candles, her face hidden in the looming shadows. She would enlist in the military shortly afterwards. We never see the “Maine” Annandale again. In the images from the next seven years there are occasional moments of what seems like genuine joy, but something in Annandale’s eyes is always guarded against the camera.
Simoneau and Annandale’s relationship was changed irrevocably by her post-9/11 enlistment. By 2003, she had married a fellow soldier, news conveyed to Simoneau in an awkwardly tender e-mail from Annandale’s mother that he included in the book. Years later, after Annandale returned to the United States from Iraq, the couple suddenly rekindled their romance in the form of a long distance relationship, before seeing it burn out just as quickly.
In assembling Love and War, Simoneau eschewed strict chronology in favor of an approximation of memory. “Constructing a challenging, powerful and mysterious narrative was definitely at the forefront of my mind,” he says of his editing process. Reading the book is akin to digging through a shoebox full of mementos from an old relationship. The story comes in fragments and bursts, forcing readers to interact with the work, fill in the gaps, draw their own conclusions. This emotional and intellectual “unpacking” mimics the photographer’s own assembly of the book. “I think one of the most important things about storytelling is to know what to tell and what not to tell, and finding the perfect balance in between,” Simoneu says.
As a young photographer, Simoneau was vehemently opposed to the societal “trend of people bringing their private life into the public sphere.” But the photographer’s perspective was irrevocably changed by a 2003 Nan Goldin exhibition at Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Simoneau was brought to tears by the work of Goldin, who is known for intimate images of her coterie of friends and relationships. “You don’t pretend that you are outside of the equation when you do your work. You admit, right off the bat, that it is subjective, it is partial, because that is how most work is … you come with feelings, you come with opinions, you are part of the equation.”
Annandale and Simoneau had no contact for almost four years except for some very formal e-mails in which Simoneau asked, and received, her permission to publish the work. After she saw a review of the book in a newspaper in Germany, where she currently lives, Annandale asked him for a copy. He says her response was entirely positive.
Despite the fact that, on the surface, Annandale is the subject, ultimately this is a book about Simoneau.
When he was working on the project, Simoneau felt it was very important that Annadale’s voice be present. They decided to include an essay Annandale had written while finishing her college degree after returning from Iraq. In it she describes her deployment, and the experience of meeting a young soldier who was killed before she even learned his name. It serves as a powerful epilogue, the sort of ending that sends you right back to the beginning to start the book again with fresh eyes. She is also responsible for the only physical representation of Simoneau in the work, a painting of him under the hood of his camera, face obscured. The photographer’s absence from the book is clearly a calculated move, but when asked what he sees when he looks at Love and War the answer is illuminating. “I definitely see where I come from when I look at this work and who I am, or was,” Simoneau pauses, then continues, “I see much better my own architecture.”
Guillaume Simoneau Photo Gallery