BY MIKE BROTHERS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF UNIVERSITY RELATIONS
Alex Kinloch was just about to close the hatch as his submarine, the USS San Juan, was preparing to submerge off the coast of Florida near Jacksonville in 2013. As the lookout, the young Navy sailor was the last person to go down below deck before the routine dive.
At that instant, he was struck by the setting sun’s pink and orange hues stretching across the horizon and above the wake trailing the powerful vessel. An American flag whipped in the wind next to him. Kinloch reached for his iPhone 4S, snapped a few images in the moments he had left above the surface, and then shut the hatch.
“I always looked for those kinds of moments in my spare time while serving,” he says.
That photo taken as a personal memory would be the eventual catalyst for a moving and revealing photography exhibit organized by Drury and the Springfield Art Museum. “Veterans’ Views” is an exhibition of more than 60 photographs taken by some 40 veterans from 12 states during their time of service. The images span seven decades and numerous theaters of conflict and non-conflict, and provide a glimpse into the everyday lives of those who exemplify the virtues of courage, self-sacrifice and discipline through their service to the nation.
The idea for the show was born in a Drury photography class. Kinloch was a student in one of professor Rebecca Miller’s photography courses. “One day we were talking about taking chances while you’re taking a photograph – for example, talking to a stranger to see if you can take their photo, or getting to a really weird angle to get a shot,” Miller recalls. “Alex pulled out his iPhone and said, ‘You mean like this?’”
Miller was immediately captivated by what Kinloch had seen that day: “It was the power of the sea, the beauty of the sunset and the American flag blowing in the foreground. Just to hear Alex talk about it, you could tell he really loved his time in the service, and he was very patriotic and proud of that image.”
Miller spoke to Drury art history professor Dr. Tom Russo about how moved she was by the image, and Russo sensed an opportunity to let others have a window into the world of service and sacrifice as seen through the veterans own eyes – or lenses. The pair approached the Springfield Art Museum as the venue, and the museum put out a nationwide call for submissions. Museum curator Sarah Buhr helped Miller and Russo select the photos.
“I would love to be able to bring everybody I know here who’s ever asked me about my military experience,” says Sean McGrane, an Army sergeant who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and who has two photographs in the exhibit. He traveled to Springfield from his home in Denver for the exhibit’s opening reception in July. “It’s interesting to see how universal some of these experiences are, from the 1940s to now. If you’re a soldier, you can relate to someone who was around back then. You have some of the same experiences, good and bad.”
The exhibit is broken up into sections dealing with topics like “People and places,” “Work” and “R & R.” Some show a sense of camaraderie; others are playful. Some wouldn’t be out of place in a vacation album while others provide a direct window into conflict and war.
For McGrane, the images serve as a needed bridge to connect two worlds. He’s eager to share this experience with others, yet he recalls that he never saw photographs from his father’s service in Vietnam. They never much spoke about it, either.
“I think that’s a common occurrence for a lot of children and family members of those veterans, that they never see these things and don’t have those discussions with the veterans,” he says. “Sometimes, we don’t even know how to start the conversation and how to explain it.”
One of McGrane’s photos was of his final moments on the ground in Iraq. He turned around to shoot one last photo as he walked up the ramp on the rear of the plane that was to fly him and many fellow soldiers home. “Just as I did that, one of the people behind me flipped the bird,” he says, laughing. “I called the photo ‘Freedom Bird’ because that’s what soldiers call those planes to come home.”
His other photograph is more serious in nature: a close up shot of a fellow soldier’s rosary wrapped around an M240B machine gun. McGrane, who is Catholic, says this sight always struck him on multiple levels. “Was there a moral, religious piece to that?” he says. “Was our god better than their god? Did our god love us more than their god? Was it for security? Would it protect them? Would it protect us in the convoy vehicle? It was something I’d think about often on those long drives.”
One image by another photographer that resonated with McGrane was a simple photo of pair of combat boots. It was taken by William Howard of Kansas City. McGrane had taken a very similar one himself, he says. “I don’t know that anyone other than another vet would understand how impactful that image is to you,” he says. “So how do you start that conversation? This exhibit is a great place to start it.”
“Veterans’ Views” runs through Nov. 26 at the Springfield Art Museum. For more information about the exhibit and free, related community programming please visit: http://www.sgfmuseum.org/203/Veterans-Views