There are some assignments that make me excited to cover from a purely visual perspective. Then there are assignments I’m excited to witness not only as a photographer, but as a person. This was one of those kind of gigs.
Growing up I was an Air Force brat. I spent my entire life on Air Force bases. My father was not only a pilot in the Air Force, but most of my relatives – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. – all have been in the Air Force at one point in their life. Me? I press buttons and chase life with a camera. I downplay it, but it’s especially rewarding when I get to be a part of a shoot where I want to give good people press. I want these veterans to be on ESPN. I want to make good photos so they get play and attention. These are folks who have been through hell and back fighting for our country. The least I can do is make some pictures. The PR folks with the VA were just excited to have me around making pictures…as one told me – “Honestly, just you being here and taking their picture is making their day.” That’s pretty awesome and overwhelming.
Originally, the call from Julianne at ESPN.com wanted me to cover three days of the 2013 National Veterans Wheelchair Games. She had a list of several events which seemed simple enough and fun, but then asked if there was a chance to do portraits of some of the athletes if I could do so. Most who know my work, know I do color. I live, dream, eat, and sleep color. So for the portraits, I went the exact opposite for some reason. Black-and-white. Vertical (gasp!). 4×5. Lit portraiture. I even sprinkled in some Lensbaby use. This was a bit of a departure from from weird colorful rectangles, but it was honestly a breath of fresh air to have a corner of a room, a long line of veterans to shoot, and approach it differently than I would have going in. It gave me time to concentrate on faces.
The biggest thing was I wanted the portraits to be less about the wheelchairs and more about their face, their sport, and their pride.
Big thanks to Julianne for trusting me with the gig, Eve for assisting me with the portraits, and Jordan and Michael from the VA for all their amazing efforts during the shoot.
For more work from the National Veterans Wheelchair Games please visit my – newly designed! – Photoshelter archive: http://chiplitherland.photoshelter.com/#!/index/G0000jFaaSRFX6cU/1