A uniquely devastating look inside veterans’ cars

Photographer M.L. Casteel has made a book about the mental state of U.S. military veterans that is uniquely devastating. It cuts to the heart of how many of our veterans’ lives have been brushed with trauma, and it does this without even showing us any of the veterans.

Instead, Casteel documents the environments that they live in, specifically the interiors of their cars. The result is both haunting and emotional.

Casteel intends for his book, “American Interiors” (Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2018), to be “a comment on war and the ways that its impact ripples through society,” he said.

The series he created “depicts a bleak state of existence for veterans,” he said. “It was made in the spirit of empathy, respect and gratitude.”

He met his subjects while working as a valet attendant at a Veterans Affairs hospital in North Carolina where many veterans go for regular appointments. Casteel saw some weekly and, over the course of seven years, became close with many of them. He also got to know their cars.

Casteel started the project by taking portraits of the veterans themselves. He said he recognizes the VA employees’ hard work and dedication to veteran care, but that the infrastructure for providing veterans with necessary services is severely inadequate.

“I spent around a year visiting with them in their homes, chatting and perhaps sharing a meal, before I realized that the photographs I was creating were not actually getting at the true spirit of what I wanted to express,” he said.

So, Casteel began to photograph what was around them.

“What I saw in the interiors of the veterans’ cars were indications of trauma undealt with, of the repercussions of war on bodies and minds, and how that spills over into everyday environments,” he said. “War barges into the everyday in unexpected and often unacknowledged ways.”