An exhibition depicting crash scenes and portraits of people grieving for victims of traffic accidents was defended by the artist behind the show as it reached Birmingham yesterday.

Award-winning photographer Paul Wenham-Clarke said he hoped his images would encourage people to drive safely.

He compared the death of 3,200 people on the roads every year to fighting a "constant war". The photographer said people had "benefited" from looking at his pictures which highlight an important issue that is being ignored.

The exhibition, which opened at the Custard Factory, includes images of crash scenes that were created by Mr Wenham-Clarke after he spoke to emergency services personnel.

To ensure that relatives would not be able to identify the accidents, the locations and some finer details were altered.

Mr Wenham-Clarke said he had received only a few complaints since the exhibition opened in London in January.

He said: "I have received emails saying 'You call this art?'

"But I never said it was art. I just want to get people to think about what they are doing with their lives and I am using photography as a means to do that.

"When we first started the exhibition in London we had lots of people visiting because they wanted to read the stories of how people coped with tragedy. They went away having benefited from learning about this."

Mr Wenham-Clarke said he was concerned the Government, the media and motorists were becoming complacent because Britain has few deaths on the roads compared with other countries.

"The starting point for this project was that I felt road safety in this country is being ignored," he said. "We think that 3,200 deaths a year is a low figure and we keep patting ourselves on the back about it, but it is almost like a constant war.

"The photographs provide a story that is not always looked at. War photographers go to Iraq or Afghanistan, but we have all this carnage here that is going on."

The images of crash scenes have been created using actors and make-up. The exhibition also includes portraits of the bereaved and seriously injured alongside an account of the events in their own words.

"The people featured in the exhibition have been terribly injured or in many cases bereaved. Either way their lives have been devastated," said Mr Wenham-Clarke.

The photographer worked with RoadPeace, a charity for bereaved families and injured crash victims, which introduced him to survivors and bereaved families willing to participate in the exhibition.

Mr Wenham-Clarke spent six months meeting with his subjects, gaining their trust.

He said an exhibition with real pictures of crash scenes would have been too graphic for an audience.

"If I used real life images of a crash people would not have been able to sleep at night. Even the emergency services have problems dealing with it," he said.

"What I have done is taken people to a point where they have an idea of what happened without reaching that level of reality."

Hillary Williams, from exhibition sponsor Green Flag, said: "This striking and challenging work will hopefully make drivers think about their behaviour."

* 'When Lives Collide' is at the Custard Factory, Digbeth, until November 4 .

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