“I see a lot more than I would just looking at something.”
This statement from a veteran-student of the JHP, Mr. Anthony Soto, simplifies yet embodies the mission of the Josephine Herrick Project. I spent a week with the JHP in order to see how beneficial some time behind, or in front of, a camera can be for veterans. I was given a glimpse into the world of Josephine Herrick and veterans that revealed the origins and future of the JHP. This experience working with a variety of images and visiting the St. Albans VA gave me, a weeklong volunteer/intern/student, an opportunity to be involved with a deep and intriguing organization that is close to my heart.
The beginning of my project and week included sorting through hundreds of photographs from the 1940s, the early days of the JHP. These depicted the veterans from World War II being taught photography at the St. Albans VA by the women of the V.S.P. (Volunteer Service Photographers), a.k.a. Josephine Herrick and her friends. Darkrooms designed to be portable are featured heavily in these photographs; the men too injured to venture around the hospital were thus able to have the same artful experience. As the years progress, the photographs change from ones documenting the soldiers’ lessons with the women teachers to their own art. Their models at first were each other, so that the end products could be sent to the veterans’ loved ones. My favorite images, however, are the ones where a pinup model would visit the hospital.
Photographs from the St. Albans VA were the most common that I came across, as it was the first hospital to accept the VSP in 1942. These men with a variety of health concerns proved that beyond the veteran or disabled or any other label, there was also a creative side. Contests began in the early 1950s for these individuals, where any one of their photographs could be submitted for the annual prize. One soldier was given first place for an image of a Korean orphan during the Korean War. He stands on crutches with Josephine Herrick herself in a photograph depicting his win and his artistic contribution. Others look to nature or loved ones, a theme still present in the JHP veteran’s programs.
One such program was brought back to St. Albans last spring by the JHP. These men are not the young veterans we see on the news from Iraq and Afghanistan, but the ones from Vietnam and still even WWII. Given wheelchairs for mobility and cameras as an eye, these men were able to capture their lives at the St. Albans VA similarly to those from the 1940s. Images of hawks outside of windows, or the hands of a fellow vet holding one of the newer Canon digital SLR models show a simple but apt eye for the photography world. These men no longer need portable darkrooms; instead a printer is brought after the annual Holiday Party, and family members are able to immediately take away that prized image of a loved one.
Photo: Maureen McNeil, Executive Director and Katie Despeaux
These opportunities bring a newfound curiosity to these men. This whole project “gives them something they can think about,” as fellow vet Mr. Soto told Maureen and me during our St. Albans’ visit. The drive to learn something new and do something better gives the veterans a hobby in the hospital, particularly in the summer months. But just the simple printing out of a photograph brings joy to these individuals, as Mr. Soto emulated: “And the photographs, like, wow, I did that?” With a push to continue and expand the program at St. Albans with exhibits and a certificate program, it was easy to see that even 72 years later Josephine Herrick’s influence still reigned strongly.
These humble origins as a community service provider, however, set the foundations for the growing influence the JHP would have on the New York City community. Under the name of V.S.P., these women extended their reaches to the other VAs in NYC and eventually to rehabilitation clinics, children hospitals, Autistic children, and blind individuals. During my week at the office, it was clear that there’s a desire to further these programs to a variety of different groups. While still maintaining the existing programs, one goal is to extend the camera’s reach to female populations, including veterans. The camera is an easy way to engage a group of people who may feel left out or misunderstood, which the JHP understands inherently.
JHP student, intern, photo book creator, Akeem Bonaparte
I was able to firsthand see these influences from my meeting at St. Albans and an interview with current JHP star, Akeem Bonaparte, who published his own JHP project in a book this past year. The importance of this project extends beyond providing an interesting skill or hobby to individuals, but to giving a sense of hope, purpose, or belongingness. One week provided a glimpse into this blossoming world and yet it’s something that will stay with me and inspire me to continue working with veterans, just as Josephine Herrick intended.
About the Author
Katie Despeaux is a senior at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. She found out about the JHProject while on the Humans of New York blog. She ia a Clinical Psychology (and French) major with an Art/Art History minor. She is passionate about the veteran population. Her future goals include studying clinical psychology on a doctorate level and to one day work at a VA hospital. Photography has also been one of her passions since I she was 14 years old. Katie spent a week with us at JHP as a volunteer intern immersing herself in our archives, visiting veterans in our current programs and learning how the “power of photography” makes and amazing difference to their lives.
Rachel Orkin-Ramey from Christie’s, our auctioneer and Akeem Bonaparte a JHP student, intern and photographer as his amazing photograph of “The Brooklyn Bridge” is auctioned off!
By Sara Sweetwood
Thank you to everyone who came out to support the Josephine Herrick Project on Monday, November 4th at our Benefit Auction. We were extremely excited to host our first auction since 1978. The event featured a silent and live auction, both with breathtaking photographs graciously donated to us by professional photographers, teachers in our programs, and students in our programs. These amazing photographers are the reason that our event was such a great success!
Photo by Akeem Bonaparte
We were blown away by the enthusiasm and generosity of our guests and colleagues. Dozens of our pieces sold and now have new homes among our many supporters. All proceeds from sales will go to fund the Josephine Herrick Project. These donations help us to continue running our programs that aid veterans and children in-need learn, grow, and heal through the magic of photography. We are unable to continue the good that we do without the generosity of the photographic industry. This event was a reminder of how supportive and kind this community really is. Thank you so much to everyone who attended and donated!
JHP has more exciting events coming up, so keep your eyes out!
The Board and Staff of The Josephine Herrick Project are very proud of our recent intern and former Birch Family Services program member, who was recently honored by President Barack Obama for his volunteer service in 2012 with New York Cares. Akeem received the prestigious, President’s Volunteer’s Service Award. Congratulations Akeem on receiving the award and for giving back to New York Cares and The Josephine Herrick Foundation. Here’s an inside look at Akeem’s award from his new blog:
President Volunteer Award from President Barack Obama and Why I volunteer with New York Cares
On May 31,2013 I received an award from the President’s volunteer service award thanking me for doing 100 hours of community services in 2012 with New York Cares. I’m so proud of myself that I received this award. I’ve done over 98 New York Cares projects for the past two years which I’m so happy about. The reason Why I volunteer with New York Cares is working with Children who have Developmental Delay disabilities which is Keen Recreation Center. I love playing with the children teaching them how to play sports and having fun. I also like volunteering at St John the Divine serving food to the homeless. By taking my free time going out there in the community, volunteering for projects that need to be done, and also making people happy for the tasks that are being done every single day I was meant to get this award.
I also want to thank my two job coaches Menroy Cambell and Marsha Bennet that always go with me when I sign up for a New York Cares project and that when I arrive to the destination to start the project on time. They are always there for me and I appreciate so much that I just want to say a Big Thank you Menroy and Marsha for always being there with me during a volunteer project. I would always remember the both of you and how you play your role as being a job coach for me. Thank you very much for helping me out when I needed help. You probably helped more than you think you did. Thank you.”
Twenty-year-old Akeem Bonaparte just completed a Blurb book, Downtown Manhattan, a combination of writing and photographs. When Brandon Stanton, Founder of Humans of New York, was introduced to Akeem at a JHProject gallery opening last week, he went wild over Akeem’s fresh, poetic writing. His verbal descriptions invite the reader to look at an image again and again to discover his sense of shape, texture and personal reference in his photographs. Akeem’s artistic sensibility is changing our vision of the world!
Akeem studies photography through the JHProject at the Birch Family Services, an organization that provides special schools to individuals with autism, and also currently interns at the JHProject office. He says that photography has helped him to “socialize,” and has taught him the joy of being part of a community. Read the public’s comments about Akeem’s book on the Humans of New York blog. Click here to preview and order your copy of Downtown Manhattan.
On Saturday September 15, 2012, The Friendship Group for Photography went to the NY Aquarium and took pictures of different kinds of aquatic wildlife. The participants that joined the photography group were Royce, Malik, Mark, and I. The group was accompanied by Jeffrey, Avis, and Sahara. Sahara, our professional photographer, was there to teach us how to take portraits, take close-ups, when to use a flash and Birdseye view. Read more