In war, common mission drives soldiers’ daily lives. When they return home, a seeming lack of mission can leave veterans wondering where to drive next. Many spend the years after war fighting a battle against the mental and physical injuries they sustained in combat, not to mention the social barriers to family life and work life.
Gala True, a researcher at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center, gave a group of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans a new mission: armed with a camera, tell the story of your service, your combat deployment, and your return home.
Those stories and photographs are now the subject of “From War to Home: Through the Veteran’s Lens,” an exhibit at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The exhibit, which debuted in November, has recently been extended until mid-February.
“From War to Home” is the culmination of a project True, a medical anthropologist with a Ph.D. in folklore, designed to help veterans take more control of the care they receive at the VA. To help connect experiences of war to experiences at home, the exhibit features both the photos veterans took during their combat service, as well as photos they have taken since returning home. Reached by phone earlier this month, True spoke about how photography frees veterans to tell these transitional stories.
“I’ll never forget one guy, going through all of his photographs and talking to me for an hour and a half,” she recalled. “At the end, he looked at me and he said, ‘I never told anyone else any of these stories…these photographs just got me thinking and talking. I forgot you were here.’”
At the same time, True reflected, the exhibition is also a powerful way for staff at the VA and civilians visiting the exhibit to gain insight into the experience of recent combat veterans. “I’ve had quite a few guys come up to me afterward and say how much they loved it,” she said. “They say to me, ‘When are you going to get this out there? Everybody needs to see this.’”
In January, War News Radio hopes to bring some of these images and stories to the larger audience these veterans seek. A group of reporters from WNR are planning to visit “From War to Home,” and to interview a handful of the exhibit’s participants about their photographs and lives. In the meantime, more information on the exhibit can be found on the project website from the VA’s Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion (CHERP). A selection of photographs from the exhibit are also currently available at Philly.com. Check back for our updates in our January show.