Photo of Maureen McNeil, JHP Executive Director and Brooklyn VA Participant Felicia Foster Photo @RickGerrity
By Maureen McNeil – Memorial Day Weekend 2014
As we celebrate veterans as heroic young people who risked their lives for their country, today of all days, we must also commit to helping the more than 2.9 million disabled veterans from wars over the last seven decades.
In 1944 Josephine Herrick was tapped by Dr. Howard Rusk, father of rehabilitation medicine, to organized programs, equipment and train women to teach the art and technology of photography to wounded WWII soldiers in NYC hospitals. Today, that legacy of photography and service lives on at JHP. It is no secret that helping others makes humans feel good.
Professional photographer Camille Tokerud specializes in lifestyle photography www.camilletokerud.com but over the last two years she has volunteered to teach portrait and still life photography to more than 50 veterans at the Brooklyn VA Hospital. One of her students, Mai Jun Li, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran wrote:
Photo by Mai Jun Li, Brooklyn VA Program Particpant
“My dog tag is important to me. It was there with me witnessing things good and bad.
Taking photos of my ID is making me feel grateful. When I try to remember the past, my dog tag has been on me for years. It means a lot to me. I hold onto it like it’s saving my life.”
The Josephine Herrick Project photography program at the Bronx VA taught by professional photographer Nousha Salimi www.noushasalimi.com has a waiting list.
Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Sidney Clark said: “It was a spiritual growth for someone like myself. Nousha treated us with kid gloves.”
Veteran Benjamin Marrero said of the class: “Now when I’m depressed I just go outside and take pictures and it helps me relax.”
Veteran and photographer Scott Nidermaier www.nidermaierpicutres.com teaches an ongoing JHP photography program every Monday afternoon for two years at St. Albans VA in Queens, including the oldest in-patient veterans, and some who are in hospice. Scott said: “Sometimes just the opportunity for my students to pick up a Canon Rebel, hold it in their hands, is a huge accomplishment.”
For wheelchair bound Viet Nam veteran Anthony Sodo, photography has transformed his life. He recently captured an image of a hawk on the hospital grounds. He said: “I have three different cameras now and take pictures for all the Wounded Warrior events. I keep busy. I see a lot more than I would, even looking at the photos I see more than looking at the shot.”
Archival image exhibited at the Soho Photo Gallery in April 2014
In April this year the Josephine Herrick Project exhibited of 26 archival images at Soho Photo Gallery www.sohophoto.com . Viewers witnessed the camera as a transformative tool. Young men in plaster body casts, wheel chairs and legs in traction practiced the new hands-on skill, tried out the makeshift darkroom—a sheet over the bed— and shared the photographs of family, nature and animals with their community of family and friends. Today we continue to witness the same healing power in self-expression. Karen Riedel from Rusk Rehabilitation recently participated in a panel discussion about the healing power of photography along with photojournalists Nina Berman www.ninaberman.com and Ron Haviv www.ronhaviv.com art therapist Beryl Brenner from the Brooklyn VA Hospital, and veteran Sheridan Dean. The event was moderated by editor of Popular Photography and American Photo Miriam Leuchter.
Last year St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights hosted a JHP veteran exhibit. A current veteran portrait exhibit opened at Unique Photo in Fairfield, New Jersey this past week. Requests for veteran programs come in from around the country every week. Commit today to helping veterans in need who live in your community, or make a donation on the Josephine Herrick Project website at www.jhproject.com