Photographer recreates drawings of children in war zones using toys


Photographer Brian McCarty spent two decades shooting photos for some of the world’s largest children’s toy and media companies. Since 2011, however, he has worked with children who have been affected by war through a project called war toys.

Each work in the project begins with a child’s drawing based on their story of a conflict. McCarty then uses toys to recreate each of these works in photo form.

“The project invokes the principles and practices of expressive art therapy to safely collect and articulate children’s war stories,” the photographer writes on his website. “Under the guidance of a specialist therapist and working through NGOs and UN agencies, the boys and girls become art directors for narrative photos of locally sourced toys.”

A young Syrian refugee girl emerges as the sole survivor of a missile strike that killed her entire family.
An Israeli boy recounts his fear of the seemingly endless stream of rockets he imagined falling on his house.
An 11-year-old Palestinian boy draws his friend who was killed by a soldier in unknown circumstances at the Israeli separation barrier.

Originally started as a photo series, war toys became the nucleus of a non-profit organization, also called war toyswhich McCarthy founded in 2019 in response to “seeing firsthand the severe effects of displacement and war-related trauma on these children”.

“Defending children who have been affected by war remains one of War Toys’ core missions,” reads the non-profit organization’s website. “A unique art therapy-based process allows us to work safely with potentially traumatized children, responsibly collect their first-hand accounts, and recreate their stories on the spot through an accessible and disarming play filter. .”

A 9-year-old Iraqi boy draws his house which he says saved him and his family – a house they had to flee when it was destroyed in the fighting.
A child says he fled his home in the middle of the night to escape ISIS-controlled territory.
An Iraqi boy draws the battle for the town of Qayyarah, where nearby oil fields were set on fire by Islamic State fighters battling Iraqi forces heading towards Mosul.
A Syrian refugee girl recounts her experience of adapting to harsh conditions in an informal settlement in Lebanon near the border.
A young Iraqi girl says a woman was stoned to death because she was not wearing Islamic State-approved clothing.
A young girl draws a Daesh soldier placing a bomb on a car and causing an explosion.
A girl recounts her experience of seeing the disemboweled and dismembered body of an Islamic State fighter lying in her street as she and her family began to flee their home.

In addition to art therapy and fieldwork, War Toys also offers programs that provide toys and education to children around the world.

An Iraqi boy draws a tank killing an ISIS fighter.
An Iraqi boy recounts his experience walking through an ISIS checkpoint with his family on his way home and then seeing the fighter shoot people.
An Iraqi boy is pictured with his parents returning home and being targeted by a helicopter from above.
A young Iraqi boy draws a helicopter that shoots a girl in the head without giving further details.
A young Iraqi girl draws her father guiding her over a bridge that has been destroyed. A piece of wood had been used to cover the broken section.

Help children in Ukraine

In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, War Toys is currently fundraising for a developing program in Ukraine.

“We work with Soul first aida grassroots organization formed by Ukrainian art therapist Nathalie Robelot,” McCarty said. PetaPixel. “In a remarkably short period of time, Nathalie has built an extensive network of Ukrainian mental health professionals ready to work.

“In the short term, to increase Ukraine’s mental health capacity, they will train caregivers in expressive therapy-based activities that can help alleviate trauma in war-affected children while fighting continues. When things are more stable and the children are physically safe, they will move on to treatment for PTSD and other similar war-related conditions.

“War Toys will work within this network of therapists to collect and articulate the testimonies of the children in their care. First, though. We want to get the support of these children now! »

You can find more of McCarty’s work at his website and through war toys.

Header image: A young Iraqi girl says her family fled Mosul as fighting raged less than a kilometer away.


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