Houston Matters

Photographer Uses Toys To Tell The Stories Of Children In War Zones

Brian McCarty bases his photos on drawings by actual children who’ve lived through war.

War-Toys: Tank And Mother
A photo by Brian McCarty for his project WAR-TOYS: Israel, West Bank, and Gaza Strip.

A photography exhibit at the University of Houston – Clear Lake aims to draw attention to the plight of children in war-torn countries using some unusual methods.

The exhibit is called WAR-TOYS: Israel, West Bank, and Gaza Strip, and it's by Los Angeles photographer Brian McCarty. He wanted to tell the stories of kids in war zones and refugee camps but knew actual, graphic images of bloodied, wounded children might keep some people from looking at his work.

So, instead, he went to places like the Gaza Strip, Iraq, and a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon and enlisted the help of an art therapist to talk to kids who'd been through violence and conflict. At some point in the therapy session with these kids, they would draw pictures of their experiences.

War-Toys: Bombs Falling Drawing
A child’s drawing of life on the Gaza Strip.

Then, McCarty would take these drawings and go find children's toys and re-create what the kids had lived through. He'd set up scenes using dolls, figurines, little Army men, toy tanks, helicopters, and missiles, and he would photograph them in very real locations of devastation – or in an actual refugee camp. The exhibit allows you to see his photos alongside what the kids drew.

McCarty says the intent is to help people connect with a subject that's often incredibly hard to talk about.

War-Toys: Tel Aviv Bus
An image of a burning bus in Tel Aviv.

In the audio above, he tells Houston Matters producer Michael Hagerty where the idea came from, how he worked with the children, and what he hopes people take away from seeing the images.

WAR-TOYS: Israel, West Bank, and Gaza Strip is on display through March 15 at the art gallery at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.


Michael Hagerty

Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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