Breathtaking Images Capture the Strength & Beauty of Veteran Amputees (PHOTOS)

Adriana Velez | Jul 27, 2015 Good News
Breathtaking Images Capture the Strength & Beauty of Veteran Amputees (PHOTOS)

Conjure up the image of a U.S. military veteran amputee and what do you see? Someone strong, someone sexy? If photographer Michael Stokes's Kickstarter for his photo book, Always Loyal, succeeds, that is exactly how we'll see amputee vets from now on.

Stokes didn't start off as a military photographer. His background is in fitness and erotic photography -- and it shows in these electrifying portraits. Far from gratuitous, they reveal the energy and vitality of these young men (and woman) who have their whole lives ahead of them.


Image courtesy of Michael Stokes Photography 







  • It Started With 1 Vet


    Image courtesy of Michael Stokes Photography 

    Stokes photographed his first vet amputee over two years ago when a fan of his work suggested he photograph retired Marine Corporal Alex Minsky (not pictured here). "I photographed him as if he were not an amputee," Stokes says. By that he means that he noticed amputees tended to get photographed documentary style, often in somber black and white. Stokes decided to use the same more glamorous, erotic style of photography he uses for the rest of his work. 

  • Vet Amputees in a New Light


    Image courtesy of Michael Stokes Photography 

    This made a big difference. "Most of [the vets he photographs] are in their mid-to-late twenties," Stokes says. "So even though they're retired veterans they have their full lives in front of them, and they have just as much energy, if not more energy, than the rest of us do."

  • The First Photos


    Image courtesy of Michael Stokes Photography 

    After Stokes photographed Minsky, both men tried to get both the images and Minsky's story out to the public. It wasn't until about a year later when the Daily News happened to pick up some of the photos that Minsky shot to fame. Then Stokes photographed two other veteran amputees and included them in his book, Bare Strength.

  • The Project Grows


    Image courtesy of Michael Stokes Photography 

    Stokes was able to donate about $10,000 of the proceeds from his book to the Semper Fi Fund. He began reaching out to more veterans, and some began reaching out to him as well. "I just realized if I pushed this harder I could have enough photos for a book just on veteran amputees," he says.

    More from The Stir: Veterans Who Lost Limbs Meet With Boston Marathon Victims to Offer Comfort & Hope

  • Every Vet's Story


    Image courtesy of Michael Stokes Photography 

    We'll get to read about each photographed veteran's story in Always Loyal. For each there will be a one-page bio and photos from their deployment and recovery. 

  • How to Find New Subjects


    Image courtesy of Michael Stokes Photography 

    The veteran amputee community is actually pretty small, Stokes says, and not all amputees are keen to be photographed. But he's found many subjects through the community via social media and word of mouth.

  • How the Vets Feel About Their Portraits


    Image courtesy of Michael Stokes Photography 

    The vets all feel differently about their portraits. Some love the photos right away. "One of them actually had a difficult time viewing them," Stokes says. "He said he'd never seen himself this way and he actually asked me not to release them until he had time to digest them." But two weeks later the vet's manager called to say you have to release these. The subject happened to show the shots to a celebrity who got excited and started showing the images to other celebs. "Now he [the subject] loves them." 

  • It Takes Trust


    Image courtesy of Michael Stokes Photography 

    These photos rely on a high level of trust between photographer and subject. Stokes says he works within the vets' comfort level, but he does sometimes encourage them to move beyond that level. One triple amputee told him he wouldn't do nudity. Stokes talked him into doing a nude shot from the side and he ended up loving the photo, so they released it. But Stokes won't release a photo against a subject's wishes. 

  • Minsky Paved the Way


    Image courtesy of Michael Stokes Photography 

    "A lot of the trust comes from having photographed friends of theirs," Stokes says. "They saw Alex [Minsky] -- he's very famous now in the amputee community." So Minksy pioneered the way, and Stokes created a new genre. 

  • 'You Shot My Buddy'


    Image courtesy of Michael Stokes Photography 

    "[Veteran amputees] talk to each other, and then they tell me, 'You shot my buddy and he said it was a good experience, so I'm going to rely on you.' But we still talk about what their comfort level of nudity is."

    More from The Stir: Veteran Is Looking for Photos of Vietnam Vets for War Memorial

  • You Have to Break the Ice First


    Image courtesy of Michael Stokes Photography 

    The photographer and subject will often meet for dinner the night before their photo shoot. "We get to know each other," Stokes says, so the vet isn't showing up at the set cold. "I've got to know a little bit about them and we joke around and break the ice." That way they're warmed up for the shoot.

    More from The Stir: Paralyzed Veteran Surprises Wife With Amazing First Dance at Their Wedding

  • Trouble With Facebook


    Image courtesy of Michael Stokes Photography 

    Another thing Stokes has become passionate about is the censorship on Facebook. His photo of Minsky was blocked, and that was just the beginning. Once he was banned for an entire month with no explanation. He says he's frustrated that the community standards aren't clearly enough articulated and that they're inconsistently enforced. It's made sharing his work harder.

  • Diversity Is Another Challenge


    Image courtesy of Michael Stokes Photography 

    Stokes would like to photograph soldiers of color and more women. But it's been difficult to find those subjects. "Everyone thinks you can just order a veteran like fast food," he says. Part of the challenge is that the amputee community is so small. "A reliable source theorized there may be less than a dozen female aputees in the country," he says. One prominent black amputee turned down his invitation to be photographed.

  • Pushing Boundaries


    Image courtesy of Michael Stokes Photography 

    This is one of the latest photos of the series, inspired by traditional pietà paintings of the Virgin Mary with Christ in lamentation. It features female veteran amputee Mary Dague.

    Stokes's Kickstarter is in its final week and has far exceeded its goal, which is doubly good because some of those proceeds will benefit veterans' charities.

  • Mary Dague


    Image courtesy of Michael Stokes Photography 

    In addition to serving in Iraq as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal tech for the U.S. Army, Dague is also a breast cancer survivor. This stunning photo shows her mastectomy scars -- a gorgous portrait of strength. 

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