[Interview] Bran Symondson, former sculptor and NFT artist turned Special Forces member, shares his experiences
“I’m launching my first NFT collection this Sunday December 19 at 20:47 GMT. It’s symbolic because of the 47 and because I’ve created 2,047 digital and unique collectibles. Every piece is different – whether it’s the background, a butterfly, or a laser coming out of the barrel. “
[New York, NY-KOREA IT TIMES] Life is not easy for any of us. No one ever said it would. From the traumatic experiences of his childhood to the defining moments in combat, Bran Symondson believes that in the face of adversity, humor always shines through. He has created stunning art that combines the deadly symbol of an AK47 with butterflies and other inspiring elements from nature and mankind.
Q: Could you share your growth experiences that you think made you the critically acclaimed artist that you are today?
A: The main challenge I faced growing up was not having a very academic mind. Don’t get me wrong, I loved learning but struggled in school. Hanging on to the information and then taking the exams and all that was not easy for me. It wasn’t until the last two years of my studies that it was discovered that I was dyslexic.
Q: When would you say was your first contact with art?
A: I had the chance to go to a big school. There was a huge art department, so my main subjects were cooking, metalworking, and art. So, I believe this would be my first contact with what will later forge me as the person I am today.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your childhood and your childhood life?
A: My life was turned upside down because my mom and dad were getting a divorce. A lot of children go through this and it is not easy for any of them. A few years later, my mother also divorced my stepfather. And it was a little hard for me because he was loving and supporting me.
Q: Was your real father important to you?
A: Well, I didn’t see my real dad around the age of eight. However, I looked for him and when I was 30 I knocked on his door one night. It was a shock to all of us when he opened the door. When the doors to your past open, it impacts your present. I struggled to grow up without a father figure, but I’m happy to say now that they’re both back in my life and supporting me and my life as an artist.
Q: Your first real work as an artist. How did this happen to you?
A: My artistic career started in photography. I have worked with eminent photographers. David La Chapelle, Nadav Kander and Gavin Bond. I did portraits. In fact, I received my first prize in 2003, the Schweppes Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery.
Q: At what point in your life did you decide that the military was for you and why?
A: I was 34 years old and I was doing photography but I felt it was meaningless. And in fact, I’ve always been fascinated by the military so I decided to give it a try and test myself. I went to an open house and signed up. They said I was too old which disappointed me and as I walked away I was approached by a guy who said it looked like I wanted to join and me asked “why don’t you come talk to us?” It was the UKSFR, UK Special Forces Reserve. I had a few interviews and then started the selection process. It ended up being a massive commitment that changed my life.
Q: Was joining difficult? Have we all heard stories about how difficult Bootcamp is?
A: Well, yeah, it’s very intense. We trained solidly for four months prior to deployment. Contact drills, live fire, rapid fire from helicopters, vehicle drills, comprehensive medical training, all aspects were covered. The training was very intense but it helped a lot and we didn’t realize it until we hit the ground in Afghanistan. What I also think has been of great help as reservists because we could all use our experience of our normal jobs to do our jobs better as soldiers. We were very aware that the local Taliban had noticed that we shouldn’t be screwed up, our patrolling skills, our weapon systems, our way of handling situations were very different from other regiments that had been there before. However, we have learned a lot from previous regiments.
Q: What are the main lessons to take away from your time as a Special Forces soldier for the Royal British Army?
A: I think it helped me with my self-confidence. It helped me become a better person. The brotherhood that I have experienced in the military is something that all servicemen and ex-servicemen will always refer to and say they miss. I’m still in constant communication with the guys I was with in Afghanistan. They are my extended family. Knowing, trusting someone who has your “6” and who will be selfless in their actions for you is something that we all appreciate and that we will never forget. The constant pursuit of excellence was part of our regimental ethics. To constantly have in me to be the best I can be in your field and with your loved ones.
Q: Are there any downsides to being in the military?
A: No, of course not, although it can be kind of a double-edged sword sometimes because you are never quite satisfied, so it is a bit of a drawback but also the constant force towards it. ‘before.
Q: Wartime has to be tough, hard-hitting, maybe even shocking.
A: Well, you are right. There is certainly no shortage of defining moments, but all of them have certainly shaped me as a man. The real environment also had a huge impact on me as a photographer. It was overwhelming. I think the biggest and saddest impact on me and the other guys was losing four of our brothers there. They were killed by IEDs. Their memory lives in us.
Q: There must also be moments that are all unforgettable for other reasons, right?
A: It’s a surprise to many, but in the face of adversity, humor always shines through. I remember laughing with the guys in some pretty dark times and that laugh got us through some really tough times. We still come together every year to walk to the Brecon Beacons Memorial Stone to remember those brothers we lost in the war. I also remember mostly the fields and poppy fields where opium is mined. Ironic, as the poppy is used on Remembrance Day here in the UK.
Q: When you joined the Special Forces, did you also have in mind to pursue your career as a photographer?
A: No, not at all. Cameras were not allowed in special forces. However, I was cleared because they knew I was a photographer.
Q: What did you focus on when pursuing your career as a Special Forces photographer?
A: I wanted to be unique, original. I captured some footage to show the guys back home the conditions we were living in. But that’s when I started doing portraits of the Afghan police. This resulted in an exhibition titled “The best view of Heaven is from Hell”, it was so different that it created a big stir in the UK as it showed a softer, more feminine side to the war zone, featuring the Chai Boy character who adorned his AK47 with flowers, wore eyeliner, and was often sexually helpful to other police officers. As you can imagine, bringing this to light posed some problems at first. It was featured on the cover of The Sunday Times. As a photographer, although there were times, I just wanted to go with my camera. I kept it in my strap so when the opportunity arose I would take it out quickly and photograph what I saw, the beauty of the people and the poppy fields was an amazing backdrop for any photographer.
Q: When did you switch from photography to sculpture and the artist you are today?
A: It was a process, but there is a point where I can identify this transformation. One day, we were under intense Taliban fire and we plunged into a ditch to escape the rain of bullets. Sitting in front of me was a young Afghan National Police soldier who, despite the intensity of the moment, seemed calm with a gentle smile. He was firmly holding his AK47. It was adorned with pink stickers. I thought there that I would use AK47s as a canvas. So take out of service AK47 cannons from active war zones and embellish them with butterflies, dollar bills and other symbolic materials.
Q: How has the sculptor’s journey been since then?
A: Incredible. Lifestyle change. My art revolves around the AK-47, arguably the most symbolic weapon in the world. And this is the weapon that lived with me when I was a British Special Forces soldier deployed to war-torn Afghanistan at the height of the conflict. My art collections have been awarded and greatly appreciated. Elton John, the Chapman brothers and the Prince of Bahrain are some of the famous people who bought my sculptures. I have traveled all over the world for art gallery exhibitions. It has been incredible. I have raised funds for charities that share my vision of protecting the environment and calling for peace.
Q: You have now decided to venture into NFT Artworks. Can you explain this transition?
A: I am the first sculptor to launch an NFT collection. My goal is to make the whole world aware of the destruction that war causes not only to humanity but also to the environment. With this in mind, I pledged donations to Greenpeace from the sale of my first collection titled “Kalash 47 – The Art of Disarming”.
Q: Why are you launching at such a specific time and date?
A: I’m launching my first NFT collection this Sunday December 19 at 20:47 GMT. It’s symbolic because of 47 and because I created 2,047 digital and unique collectibles. Every room is different – whether it’s the background, a butterfly, or a laser coming out of the barrel.
Q: NFT is a buzzword, so what makes you different from the rest?
A: I am not a creator of NFT “here today, gone tomorrow”. I’m not an “artist” who popped up out of nowhere just to ride the NFT wave. I am someone with a colorful history, as a soldier, photographer and artist. Over the past six months I have planned my very first NFT collection. Half of the NFT collection consists of my physical AK-47 artwork, many of which are currently on display in galleries around the world.
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