Aurora Photographer Stacy Pearsall knows Veterans; not only is she one her self, she has worked for such programs as the Wounded Warrior Program, Real Warriors and other Veteran programs promoting the health of Vets. Stacy has taken her work nation wide and has even appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the NBC Nightly News. After being medically retired from the service in 2007, Stacy moved forward and started the Charleston Center for Photography. We were fortunate enough to have Stacy answer a couple questions for us.
Aurora Photos: How has your own experience as a solider affect your photography and life?
Stacy Pearsall: During my time as a combat photographer, I developed leadership skills, independence and confidence. I grew photographically and was given many opportunities to develop personal projects outside of my everyday military work. My passport was full and I’d seen over 41 countries by the age of 25, which is more than I had ever dreamed. My responsibilities were immense for a young woman of my age. I was required to maintain thousands of dollars worth of camera gear, stay current on weapons qualifications, remain in-the-know about new technology, arrange my own international travel, develop photo stories, shoot, caption and transmit remotely in a timely manner – all while dodging bullets in the worst war-torn countries. Wearing a uniform and staying away from home for months at a time made me appreciate all that I have and value my friends and family so much more. People I’d never have the chance to meet, are now friends for life simply because we served together. We are bound by a commonality, a shared experience, a life no one else can really understand – we’re veterans of the military. It’s amazing how small this fraternity really is and how much of a family we are, no matter what generation, be it WWII, Korea, Vietnam, OEF, OIF or what have you. I’m fortunate to have the title veteran and am proud to be associated with all veterans. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t change a bit because I attribute my skills and training as a photographer and my work ethic as a professional all to my military service.
A.P: Can you tell us briefly about your portraits of Veterans for the Charleston VA Hospital?
S.P: After being wounded in action in 2007, I was medically evacuated from Iraq. I went through months of recovery and multiple medical procedures. Eventually, I was told that I couldn’t continue my job as a combat photographer and was medically retired from service. To say I was devastated would be the understatement of the century. I transferred my medical care from active duty military doctors over to the VA. I spent countless hours in many waiting rooms among numerous other vets, who were mostly older males of WWII, Korea and Vietnam Era. They’d ask, “Are you here with your dad?” and I’d chuckle and shake my head. “No sir,” I’d respond, “I’m a veteran.” A look of astonishment would wash over their faces, which was often followed by a floodgate of questions. After exchanging so many stories with wonderful veterans, it occurred to me that I should start making their portraits. I started by bringing my camera to my doctor’s appointments and while I was waiting to see the doctor, I’d take pictures. Then I began to bring a backdrop and lights between appointments and shoot more portraits. I eventually spent the entire year shooting them and obtained 300 plus veterans’ portraits. I never intended for the pictures to go anywhere other then in the hands of the vets. However, the art curator at the Charleston VA asked if they could install a permanent exhibit of a selection of the portraits down the main hallway of the hospital. I was thrilled and the vets have center-stage with their names and branches of service below their pictures.
A.P: How has your work at the Charleston Center for Photography changed the way you approach your own photography?
S.P: I continue to push myself photographically and what’s surprising is my students at the Charleston Center for Photography (CCforP) continue to inspire me. Everyone has an individual, creative vision and I truly enjoy watching other budding photographers make beautiful work. I find that CCforP affords me the opportunity to stay on the pulse of new technology and even test new gear, beta test software and put camera gear through its paces. CCforP really keeps me “in-the-know” and I love it. Plus, I get to work with my husband, combat veteran and fellow photographer, Andy Dunaway.
A.P: Do you have any upcoming projects that you can share with us?
S.P: I am currently working on two different veteran photo stories. One story is about incarcerated veterans and the VA’s initiative to intercede on their behalf. They are doing their best to go into prison systems and get veterans the care they need, whether that be metal health, drug rehabilitation or the like. The second story is about the rise of women veterans’ homelessness. It’s a very important topic, especially because I am a female veteran. I’ve been trying my best to advocate on behalf of other women vets and raise awareness about their needs. This is just one of those very basic needs female vets need right now.
To view more images from Stacy Pearsall, visit Aurora Photos.