Four years ago, Stacy Murray, the Creative Director at Seasons Magazines, introduced me to Ben Cooper. He was the first World War II veteran I had ever met in my life who is still at 97 years of age actively involved in talking about his experiences as one of the medics who helped liberate a German concentration camp in Dachau.
This year, Bruce Deckert, the publisher at Today Publishing, asked if I would photograph John Benjamin, a 102-year old World War II veteran who flew 34 B-24 missions during the war.
I came away feeling enriched having met them and heard their stories. Today, is the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, and in addition to the two portraits you see below, I wanted to introduce you to a few other portrait projects that celebrate our veterans.
1) The first one that I heard about is by a US photographer called Veterans Portrait Project.
From Stacy Pearsall’s website:
I began the VPP as I recovered from combat injuries sustained in Iraq. My military career was over, my body was broken and my spirit was crushed. I'd lost hope in my future, faith in myself and passion for life. While rehabilitating, I spent countless idle hours in VA waiting rooms surrounded by veterans from every generation and branch of service. They inspired me to pick up my camera again so that I could honor and thank them with the only gift I had worth giving, my photography.
2) Glyn Dewis is a British photographer who has an ongoing portrait project called D-Day: 75 Years on with Glyn Dewis.
The lab Dewis works with intimately, Loxley Colour posted this about his project:
He first got the idea to create a series of WWII-based portraits after watching the new Dad’s Army film. Having always loved those characters and been interested in the history, he realised it would be great to photograph real-life veterans, so their relatives would have beautiful keepsakes to remember them by in years to come. A friend got him in touch with the Oxfordshire Home Guard Living History Group and from there he started his series.
When I chatted online with Glyn a couple of weeks ago, he hinted at possibly launching a dedicated website for his project. As soon as that goes live, I will be sure to link to it here. [Update: The site is now live here.]
3) The last portrait project I want to introduce you to is by Zach Coco called Portraits for Heroes.
On his site he describes his motivation to create this project:
My Grandfather is the inspiration for this project. He is my Hero. It wasn't until after his passing, that I realized the opportunity I missed, by not interviewing him. Pictures For Heroes is a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring our Veterans by interviewing and photographing our nation's heroes, to ensure that their bravery and sacrifice is never forgotten.
If you would like to help Zach preserve the legacies of World War II veterans, please make a donation towards his book project.
Speaking of books, a couple of weeks ago, I received a book by Sasha Maslov, called “Veterans: Faces of World War II”. In it there are stunning portraits, accompanied by short vignettes about the lives of the veterans. I highly recommend it as well. At this time, the book is only $4.99! It’s an incredible find and I believe you will enjoy it.
Lastly, my friend Dave Jackson, a portrait photographer based in Appleton, Wisconsin, just wrapped up a book project called “Return To Nam” for a group called Old Glory Honor Flight. For only $85, you can buy the book and you will also be supporting a veteran’s organization in the process.
We owe veterans a debt of gratitude for their service that may never be paid back. Please feel free to explore the three projects and the book mentioned above. It is in celebrating who they are that we better understand ourselves and our shared histories.
Please note that because I do not have the individual photographer’s permission, I cannot display their work here. If they were to contact me after seeing this post, however, I am happy to update this blog post with a small sampling of their work.
The power of portraits can be summed up this way: they reconnect us back to our humanity in a fraction of a second and provide us a way of rekindling our emotions and past experiences. I applaud all four of the photographers mentioned above and as you can see they are an inspiration for me.
Portrait projects are an important way to stay connected with one’s community and at the same time keep the creative juices flowing. The “Doing Good Works” is a series I am working on where I feature the positive contributions made by people in their community.
If you live in the Farmington Valley, in Connecticut, and know of anyone that you believe should be featured –photographs and a short stack of questions about their commitment – please contact me. I would love to get to know them and celebrate who they are and what they have accomplished so far.