Captain Everett Graves was a B-24 Liberator pilot, and member of the 460th Bomb Group, the Black Panthers.  He flew a total of 50 bomb missions in WWII.  He was wounded in the shoulder and neck on this ninth mission over the marshalling yards of Castel-Maggiore, Italy, and later returned to flying status to complete his tour.
Photo: JOHN SLEMP / SPECIAL TO AJC
Photo: JOHN SLEMP / SPECIAL TO AJC

Tucker photographer focuses on vintage bomber jackets

Vintage bomber jackets hold a special place in history and in the psyche of many Americans — and capturing that sentiment is the focus of a collection of images by local photographer John Slemp.

Slemp, a photographer in Tucker whose father was a Green Beret, has photographed 40 bomber jackets since he started in late 2014.

Slemp was inspired to create images of bomber jackets because of a personal fascination with military history, combined with his admiration of a series of photographs of antique motorcycle jackets.

Bomber jackets are not only “military artifacts, but they largely spawned a new art form,” according to Slemp.

For those who have jackets to be photographed, he offers 8 x 10 prints in exchange for participation. Slemp shoots the photographs in his basement, in storage rooms or wherever is practical.

Specifically, he’s looking for leather World War II bomber jackets with artwork on both sides, and a good story behind them.

The jackets “were highly sought after even after the war,” Slemp said. “Why they’ve endured for such a long time — It’s Americana at its best.”

The jackets’ decorative embellishments were sometimes painted by soldiers with artistic talent, sometimes by other artists, according to Slemp.

Some of the markings were symbols representing enemy aircraft shot down or missions flown, according to Slemp. Other jackets’ decorations include scantily-clad women, which sometimes allowed those jackets to be well-preserved, hidden away in closets after the serviceman returned home, he added.

Slemp finds the bomber jackets to photograph by working with veterans or their family members, as well as museums. When he can, he makes portraits of the veterans as well.

High on his most-wanted list: A Tuskegee Airmen jacket and any Women Airforce Service Pilot jacket.

His ultimate goal is to publish a coffee table book of the images, and along the way he hopes to show the photographs in a traveling exhibition.

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