Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

“I Was There,” Photography exhibit honors war veterans

Portraits of veterans lined the walls of Memorial Hall yesterday, marking the opening of the two and a half week long photography exhibit, “I Was There: Stories of War and Homecoming,” featuring the photography of David Turner, former New York fashion photographer and current photography teacher at the Hallmark Institute of Photography in Turner Falls.

The exhibit, which explores the themes of Tim O’Brien’s reflection on the Vietnam War from his book “The Things They Carried,” features veterans from Turner Falls, Shelburne, Amherst, and Northampton.

Turner asked the veterans posing for portraits to bring things with them that are memorable to them. The veterans were also asked three additional questions: what they had with them, what they brought back and what they would tell someone today to take with them. The veterans’ answers were presented beneath the photographs.

Turner paraphrased his favorite story about a war veteran named Rick Arsonault.

He said, “He carried a medal that his grandmother had given to him, a miraculous medal of Mary. ‘She put it around my neck and said you may get hurt but at least you’ll come home.’ We asked him, ‘Well what’d you bring home?’ He goes, ‘Well I carried home the medal because she believed in it so much.’ He said, ‘But I left God, my belief in God, my innocence and my love of this country in Vietnam.’”

Turner asked Arsonault what he would tell someone to take with them to war if they went today, and according to Turner, Arsonault said, “I’d tell ‘em to get help sooner, because I waited too long, had the same job for 40 years, had the same wife for 33 years, raised three daughters.” .

“But my temper,” he continued, according to Turner, “if there is a god, and if I ever meet him, he better watch out.”

Turner described another subject, Pete, whose story was different from Rick Arsonault’s story. Turner said Pete coaxed and directed veterans during the studio sessions to invoke war memories.

“Pete is the nicest guy, I’m telling you. He comes in his Hawaiian shirt smoking and joking and having a good time and I say, ‘Now what was the humidity like in the jungle?’ And it takes him right back,” Turner said.

Turner met each of the individuals with the help of Robert Wilson, executive director at the Veterans Education Project in Amherst. Each of the individuals photographed, Turner explained, travel to schools and other locations to educate individuals in hopes of putting a face to war.

“They’re willing to tell their story, they’re willing to be photographed. They came into the studio already knowing what we’re doing, what the project was and suited up,” said Turner.

Turner described himself as more than a photographer. He feels he is also a storyteller.

Turner said he added a warm glow to the photographs to make them seem like they exuded the heat of the jungle, and also to give a warmth and human feeling to the show. During the sessions Turner used tiny lights to splash luminescence on certain parts of the veterans’ faces while shadowing other facial features.

“The story’s in the shadows,” Turner said. “I’m painting with light on his face.”

Turner, who described photography as an incredible and powerful communicator, began his career early in life while working in his father’s newsroom, where the photographers of [paper] groomed him as a photographer at an early age.

At 14 years-old in Oklahoma, Turner began as a cub reporter and was given his first camera. From there, he followed his passion and studied photography in Los Angeles before moving to New York, working for “W” magazine and “Harper’s Bazaar,” a women’s and fashion magazine, respectively, over the course of his 25 year career as a fashion photographer.

“I always photographed models and the models would say, ‘Pretend you’re a soldier,’ and it was a story about being in the army, and they would have to act like he was. Finally, I got to meet somebody who really was.”

“I Was There: Stories of Homecoming and War” will be shown in Memorial Hall, located between Bartlett Hall and the Campus Pond, until Nov. 18. The exhibit is part of an associated event presented by the UMass Fine Arts Center which included a performance by the American Place Theatre of Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” in Bowker Auditorium, yesterday evening.


Brian Canova can be reached at [email protected]


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    Yobe Crespo PhotographyJan 2, 2013 at 3:06 am

    Amazing coverage of this photo exhibit! Look forward to more pictures. 🙂

    Yobe Art