“It starts with a conversation and being aware and cognizant of veterans’ nonverbal gestures,” says Pearsall. “As we continue to talk, I bring them into the studio. I quiet my mouth and open my ears.”
All of her subjects leave with a copy of their portrait. For many, it’s the first time they’ve ever had their picture taken by a professional photographer. “Most are surprised that they look that good and that the portrait really looks like them,” says Pearsall.
Stacey Pearsall photographed James Lucas for the Veterans Portrait Project.
Pearsall, herself an Air Force veteran, describes the project as “an emotionally cathartic, physically healing tool.” She joined the Air Force at age 17 and did three combat tours, earning the Bronze Star Medal and Air Force Commendation with Valor. Her combat photography is known internationally; Pearsall is the only woman to have won the National Press Photographers Association’s Military Photographer of the Year award twice. In 2007, injuries sustained from an IED blast in Iraq caused her to retire from the military. The Veterans Portrait Project was her way of using her talents to continue serving and to thank those who had also served.
“I think every individual has a gift that they can offer veterans. The one thing I can assure people of is my ability to take a good portrait,” says Pearsall. “I encourage anyone who’s thought about thanking a veteran but doesn’t know how to look at what sort of things are inside them and see how they can offer their unique talents to veterans.”
More than 40 of Pearsall’s photographs will hang in The Woodruff Arts Center’s Beauchamp C. Carr Gallery. The exhibition is free to the public and will remain on display until Jan. 16.