Brian McCarty: Helping Children in War Zones Process Trauma with WarToys

Brian McCarty: Helping Children in War Zones Process Trauma with WarToys

“I rely on this seemingly innocuous, ‘Oh, it’s a toy. I can relate to a toy; I can grab it,’ to sneak around people's defenses. A weird mark of success is that it makes a lot of people cry and it makes a lot of people cry that you wouldn’t think otherwise. Like NGO workers or humanitarian folks who are on the frontlines and who have seen just some horrible stuff. Even they – who work with these kids day in and day out in the camps – are aware of some of these things but they don’t get an opportunity to look at their actual stories. There's no responsible way without an art therapist or an otherwise trained professional to hear these kids and learn these things. Going back to the absurdity of the process and the absurdity of me doing what I do; it gets people to look. People who are into art will look at it from an art point of view. People who are into pop culture, less serious stuff, it will grab them too.” — @MrBrianMcCarty [0:14:04.0]

Just click above to hear Brian share his story

Artists who are willing to put themselves in harm’s way are a rare bread, and those who use their work to help others are perhaps even rarer. Photographer, Brian McCarty, is one of these unique artists, and since 2011, he has been collaborating with the United Nations and other NGOs to help traumatized children in war zones.

Through his project, War Toys, Brian uses the power of children’s toys, free play, and his camera to help these children process their pain. Brian has worked in places like Iraq, Syria, and the West Bank, and he joins us today to share insights into his work.

We begin by hearing about his experience of working in a war zone and the complex emotions these spaces cause him to feel. On the one hand, he is exposed to the darkest side of humanity, while on the other, he sees people trying to help in the most selfless ways. Brian talks about the absurd and trite nature of his work and how this exact absurdity ultimately hooks people and draws them in. This endeavor has not been easy for a variety of reasons, and Brian shares more about the 15-year journey he has been on which culminated in forming a non-profit last year.

Naturally, we discuss the pandemic, where Brian explains why he – like many who have worked in war zones – is particularly on edge about the election and the conflict that may come with the transfer of power. Our conversation also touches on projects Brian has in the pipeline, the immense power of art therapy in high-conflict areas and war zones, and the potential of a documentary about his work being made. Tune in today to hear more.

“Being dialed into the toy geeks of the world, there’s no shortage of talent and no shortage of folks who want to contribute to a program like this and would give their designs and talent to see these toys permeate and do some good.” — @MrBrianMcCarty [1:05:51.0]

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Hear how Brian was drawn to photographing toys, a passion that started at a young age.
  • What it’s like to be working in an active war zone; it’s an addicting experience.
  • The long road Brian walked to finally get to work in a war zone – It took 15 years to get there.
  • What Brian believes the hook of his work – which at first glance seems trite – ultimately is.
  • Brian’s relationship with toy manufacturers and the support they provide him.
  • Forming the War Toys non-profit; why Brian finally decided to launch it last year and their pilot project.
  • The interesting connection Brian has seen between toy guns and active war zones.
  • War zones reveal both the primal and deeply hopeful nature of human beings.
  • How religion affects the work Brian does and what he has learned along the way.
  • The difficulty that comes with trying to find children again in high conflict areas and war zones.
  • Find out how the lessons Brian has learned from his work have helped him in the pandemic.
  • How Brian is using this newfound time seeing as he is unable to travel.
  • Donating to War Toys; what the money will be used for.
  • Some important photographers like Chris Hondros and Dickey Chapelle Brian hopes to honor.
  • Why Brian doesn’t think that the media will be protected in war zones again.
  • Insights into DesignerCon and why Brian is so excited about what is happening in the space.
  • What Brian’s day-to-day looks like and how he stays disciplined.
  • Brian’s fundraising goal for 2021 and the work he hopes to do going forward.
  • Children in war zones need to be taught emotional literacy because they are often detached from their feelings.
  • Capturing the work; how filming has formed a part of Brian’s project.
  • Where to find Brian and War Toys online.

“The seeming absurdity of the work, to me, is the hook.” — @MrBrianMcCarty [0:13:46.0]

“Photojournalists are a part of war, they are on battle fields, why not give kids that piece where it’s not just us and them fighting?” — @MrBrianMcCarty [0:49:02.0]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

“On the one hand, you get the, ‘life is cheap and you take the wrong corner and you’re dead’. But then also, there are always just those people who are trying so damn hard to retain humanity and keep this thing going.” — @MrBrianMcCarty [0:27:39.0]

Scott "Sourdough" Power

Scott “Sourdough” Power is the the creator and executive producer of NotRealArt.com. He is also the co-founder of Crewest Studio a digital media company in Los Angeles dedicated to creative culture and the $2T creative economy.