Photographer Brian McCarty spent two decades shooting images for some of the biggest toy and kids media companies in the world. Since 2011, however, he has been collaborating with children who have been affected by war through a project titled War Toys.
Each work in the project starts with a drawing by a child based on their account of a conflict. McCarty then uses toys to recreate each of those artworks as a photo.
“The project invokes principles and practices of expressive art therapy to safely gather and articulate children’s accounts of war,” the photographer writes on his website. “Under the guidance of a specialized therapist and working through NGOs and UN agencies, boys and girls become art directors for narrative photos of locally sourced toys.”
Originally started as a photo series, War Toys became the core of a non-profit organization, also called War Toys, that McCarthy founded in 2019 as a response to “seeing firsthand the severe effects of displacement and war-related trauma on these children.”
“Advocating for children who have been affected by war remains one of War Toys’ core missions,” the non-profit’s website reads. “A unique, art-therapy-based process allows us to safely work with potentially traumatized children, responsibly gather their firsthand accounts, and recreate their stories on location through an accessible, disarming filter of play.”
In addition to art therapy and fieldwork, War Toys also has programs that provide toys and education for children across the world.
Helping Children in Ukraine
In response to the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, War Toys is currently fundraising for a developing program in Ukraine.
“We’re working with First Aid of the Soul, a grassroots organization formed by Ukrainian art therapist Nathalie Robelot,” McCarty tells PetaPixel. “In a remarkably short amount of time, Nathalie has built a huge network of Ukrainian mental health professionals, ready to work.
“In the short term, to increase Ukraine’s mental health capacity, they’ll be training caregivers in expressive-therapy-based activities that can help mitigate the trauma in war-affected children while the fighting continues. When things are more stable and children are physically safe, they’ll move to providing treatment for PTSD and other similar conditions caused by the war.
“War Toys will be going over to work within this network of therapists to gather and articulate accounts from children under their care. First things first, though. We want to get these kids support now!”
Header image: An Iraqi girl draws her account of her family fleeing Mosul while fighting raged on less than a kilometer away.