Cover for Always Loyal (Taylor at Salton Sea)
“The goal is to fund the publishing of two large-scale, hardcover, coffee table books. Last year, in Bare Strength there was a chapter featuring wounded, amputee, Marines, but this year instead of one chapter, I decided to create a separate book for the men who served in the US military.”
Michael started the project unintentionally in 2012 when he photographed 26-year-old U.S. Marine Alex Minsky, a Purple Heart recipient who lost part of his leg when his truck ran over a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.
‘I wanted to approach it carefully,’ Michael told Daily Mail Online. ‘I was a fitness photographer who had an erotic edge to his images, and I wanted to shoot Alex the same way. But I didn’t want him to be in the position where he could be embarrassed. But he was strong, he was solid,’ Michael continued. ‘So I thought, I’m gonna basically shoot him as if he’s not an amputee.’
The vets pose for Michael with and without their prosthetic arms and legs, sometimes holding guns or wearing their dog tags. A few shed all of their clothes, while others left more to the imagination. But what they all have in common is that they look strong, self-assured – and hot.
‘These guys have come to me very healed and ready to take the world on. I’m not giving them back their confidence. They already have it.’
‘I had one vet who was very severely injured and he had to take some time to sit on them before publishing them. He said he just wasn’t used to seeing himself like that,’ he told Daily Mail Online. But after two weeks, the vet gave Michael the OK – and was glad that he did.
‘He was shocked by the response – people telling him how sexy he was, how beautiful he was, that he’s a hero. He was genuinely shocked and surprised,’ he said.
‘I think people notice that they are looking at a beautiful man or woman first, and then they notice that they are amputees,’ he said. ‘I think they don’t notice the amputation right away.’
‘You see veterans either in a coffin or coming back able-bodies,’ Michael said. ‘These kinds of intimate photos show an aspect of vet life that people have not been exposed to. It’s a visible reminder of the price that the country has paid.’
Michael has now published a photography book featuring some of the stunning images called Bare Strength, which is available on Amazon. There is also a 2016 wall calendar including the images from Bare Strength.
A Kickstarter campaign for a third coffee table book, Always Loyal, reached its $48,250 funding goal in just two days, and has now raised over $202,000.While his first two books focused on male veterans, Always Loyal will also showcase women who’ve served their country.
Interview By CARLY STERN FOR DAILYMAIL.COM
BT (pictured before his injury), like all the vets Michael photographed, fought in the Middle East with the US military
Sgt Bryan Anderson, pictured ↓before and ↑after his inury
Redmond (pictured↕) dressed up his prosthetic leg with an American flag pattern – and showed it off in several of the photographs
Michael Stokes earned a Fine Art degree from Cal State Long Beach with an emphasis in filmmaking. He graduated first in his class and Phi Beta Kappa. His first photography book, Masculinity was published in 2012 and after selling over 2,000 copies is now out of print. Last year Michael did his first Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to print his second book, Bare Strength.