Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
In January, military spouse Arin Yoon, documentary photographer and arts educator, spoke with the Leavenworth City Commission about a photography-based art project that will involve military spouses and students taking photos documenting their military life.
In the fall, the results of the project will be installed along the Missouri River fence at the Leavenworth Landing to show the community an exhibition of life-sized color photographs of Fort Leavenworth soldiers in uniform and their families.
“The ultimate goal of this project is to bridge the growing civilian-military divide through photography. During the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other global operations, deployments have been more frequent than in the past,” Yoon said. “A smaller percentage of the population serve now. More service members have families now than in the past. More children of service members are enlisting or commissioning. There are less veterans in Congress than ever before.
“This completely changes the dynamics of military culture. It makes it more isolated with the burden of war falling on service members and their families, rather than on the entire nation,” she said. “It is a unique community with little political and social representation… This project is an opportunity for family members to create their own representation. This project will allow participants to reframe public perception of military families in the media and address the social impact of war on a community that directly supports the war effort.”
Yoon said she first got the idea for the project when she became a military spouse with no prior knowledge of the military.
“This project began as a means for me to understand my life as a newly married military spouse living on a military base,”
Yoon said. “I began photographing my new domestic space and military objects, exploring my new role in the military structure. I soon expanded it to photographing my community, usually friends right before they PCSed, in an effort to preserve these new friendships.
“I didn’t grow up knowing anyone in the military, so it was all new and there were moments that felt surreal … These moments made me realize how unique military culture was,” she said. “At first, I felt like an outsider looking in, but now I’ve begun to feel the opposite.”
The idea for the project, Yoon said, was a way to expand the perspective beyond just her own.
The project, which is being funded by grants from the We, Women art photography project, United Photo Industries, and the Leavenworth Convention and Visitors Bureau, will be accomplished in three stages. Currently, the project is in the first stage where spouses and high school students participate in photography workshops, which began at the end of February.
So far, spouses have covered techniques and photography basics such as shutter speed, aperture and ISO and lighting both for studio and natural settings.
Students at Harrold Youth Center have discussed composition and photo history as well as representation of military children in the media.
Participants say they are enjoying the workshops.
“When I became an Army spouse, I found myself constantly taking pictures. Sometimes it was of a new place that I wanted to share with my parents, but often I was trying to capture a moment, so my deployed husband wouldn’t feel like he had missed everything,” said Elise Lyles, workshop participant. “I felt like I had an ‘eye’ for photography, but the photograph just always seemed a little off, so when I heard about Arin’s class I jumped at the chance to finally learn how to truly use my camera and how to take better photographs of this beautiful military life.”
Lyles said she has already learned a lot about photography and herself as a photographer.
“Although the massive amounts of information discussed in each class can seem daunting, I have walked out of every class with a new appreciation for the art of photography and a better knowledge of how I can improve,” Lyles said. “I have enjoyed the social aspect of this program and how art can be different to everyone. What I see and feel in a photograph may have a totally different meaning to another person.
“I have also truly enjoyed seeing my own work improve daily,” she said. “I am finding myself getting out of my comfort zone and shooting different types of photos than I did
before beginning this photography journey.”
Although future workshops have been postponed because of COVID-19 precautions, Yoon said the project will be able to continue online through social media and possible workshops with Zoom Video Communications.
Lyles said the pandemic has not stopped her from taking photos.
“The current COVID19 situation can be scary and overwhelming. We could choose to bury ourselves under all the chaos, but I have decided to embrace the joy,” Lyles said. “I am taking more intimate photographs of my children, family and our everyday life.
“Instead of taking pictures at a sporting event, I am finding myself capturing our everyday moments such as my daughters freshly painted toes, their long eyelashes as they sleep, their happy faces as they splash in a puddle or my husband’s boots by the front door,” she said. “It has actually been a breath of fresh air to have a moment to stop and enjoy my family and the everyday moments that I was often too busy to appreciate.”
Follow the progress of the project on the “To Be At War” Instagram page or the “Fort Leavenworth Community Photography Project” Facebook page. The Facebook page also includes assignments that any on-post families can participate in including scavenger hunts and more. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.