Often capturing the mental anguish of military service, portraits of local veterans by photographer Devin Mitchell, of Los Angeles, will be on exhibit at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg through Nov. 12.
In his first visual exhibit, the “Veteran Vision Project,” Mitchell uses a mirrored image approach. He has the veteran wear their military uniform in the mirror reflection while standing in civilian clothing looking into the mirror. The result bares the soul.
UCM’s Office of Military and Veteran Services and the UCM Gallery of Art & Design have come together to present the project. The exhibition will be coupled with the Fall UCM Veterans Summit slated for Friday, Oct. 9.
“Christian Cutler and I wrote this proposal for funding to bring the Veteran Vision Project here, in June,” UCM Coordinator of Military and Veteran Services Delilah R. Nichols said. “I was already planning to have a Veterans Summit, so I thought we can tie that in. It’s kind of a three-part day.”
Nichols worked with UCM Gallery Director Cutler to bring the two events together.
During the summit there will be a veteran’s resource fair, keynote speakers and panelists and also the exhibit. Mitchell will also be at the summit to participate in the panel discussions.
“The Veteran Vision Project is open all day, but Devin Mitchell will be available in the afternoon for folks who want to tour it,” Nichols added. “He will be part of my panel.”
“(Mitchell) has been working in commercial photography in Los Angeles, (with) lots of Hollywood contacts and working with individuals, corporations and the fashion industry, doing mostly portrait work,” Cutler said. “He came upon this project really by accident. He developed the project after meeting a veteran. He’d been dabbling in this mirrored image portraiture before, but when he did a veteran in the mirror it just really set off alarm bells for him.”
Mitchell found the mirrored image worked extremely well in capturing the heart and soul of the veteran.
“So, without speaking, a veteran can tell a story, through a visual image,” Cutler added. “Once he started making some of these images, the press coverage began. That allowed him to make this a bigger venture and to realize that this would probably be a lifelong mission.”
Mitchell has the goal to photograph 10,000 veterans.
“He sat down in one of his first television interviews, and felt compelled to say he was going to photograph 10,000 veterans,” Cutler said. “He has over 300 right now; he just started this a year and a half ago.”
Cutler learned about Mitchell’s work while watching the CBS Sunday Morning Show with Charles Osgood.
“I was watching the show and his story, the Veteran Vision Project was featured,” Cutler said. “I was compelled by it, and knew immediately there would be a a really strong connection between UCM and this project. It made perfect sense. After living here the last three years and realizing how close we are, not only to UCM but our whole region, to Whiteman Air Force Base. I thought … we have to bring him in.”
Cutler added that one of his major goals as gallery director is educate the students but he also wants to educate the community.
“I knew this would be a great community outreach,” he noted.
Local student veterans and active duty men and women are represented in the exhibition along with many Missourians.
“When we started discussing the project and bringing him here, Devin and I said together ‘let’s photograph here,’” Cutler added. “Let’s make this specific to the region.”
The entire front gallery inside the UCM Gallery of Art & Design features photos of UCM student veterans.
“The main gallery in the back, all but four, are Missouri veterans,” Cutler said. “Everybody from 94-years-old on down.”
The exhibit features World War II U.S. Army veteran John Mitchel, from the Missouri Veterans Home in Warrensburg, plus retired veterans who served through WAFB or outside of Missouri and now live in the area.
“Devin said, after his second day in Missouri, how creative the subjects were,” Cutler said. “He has photographed some elaborate images of people wanting to show Post Traumatic Stress or TBI, but when he got here he was very surprised at the creative ideas some people had, especially the Buhrmans.”
Michael and Rebecca Buhrman, both in the U.S. Air Force, set up a wooden table, rocking chairs and a mirror in their rural yard and had their photo made sipping lemonade.
Other photos are of a darker nature.
“One of the things Devin talks about in the interviews is the fact that a lot of the veterans turn to alcohol or drugs or medication to numb the pain or forget the memories,” Cutler added, referring to the photo of Matthew and Casey Madore.
The photo shows them as a happy family in the mirror, but denotes their civilian life is filled with alcohol addiction.
“A lot of times when they reflect on their pain, it’s amazing how much older the person appears,” Nichols added.
A photo of U.S. Navy veteran Kelli Serio, of California state, shows her in civilian clothes with a handgun under her chin.
“Kelli Serio now lectures and is part of suicide prevention for veterans,” Cutler said. “When I was going through the images online … some really hit me, then I got to her.”
“I lost it,” Nichols said when she viewed the photo. “The pain is so real. Sometimes people can’t verbalize their pain, but through a photograph they can tell their story.”
Mitchell’s photos also present physical scars and injury while serving in the military.
USMC Corporal Todd Nicely, of Lake Ozark, a quadruple-amputee, is represented in the exhibit. He will also be a panelist during the Veteran Summit.
Cutler added that Mitchell has future plans for a book created from the images of the Veteran Vision Project.
“His ultimate goal is to have two 350-image volumes of veterans,” Culter added. “His first one, he’s hoping to have by the end of 2016.”
“It’s very important that people once again understand that freedom isn’t free,” Nichols said. “That sacrifices have been made, and whether that has been through loss of life or loss of limbs, it’s not to be taken for granted.”
The Veteran Vision Project exhibit will show through Nov. 12 at the UCM Gallery of Art & Design, 217 E. Clark St. in Warrensburg. On Friday, Oct. 9 the UCM Veterans Summit resource fair will be open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.; keynote speakers and panelists will present from 8:45 a.m. to noon in the Elliott Student Union; the exhibit will show from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with public tours at 3 p.m. with Devin Mitchell. Both the exhibit and the Veteran Summit is open to the public.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 826-1000 ext. 1481 or @flbemiss.