Internationally known photographer Brendan Bannon notes that service members have ample training on shutting off their emotions for survival in wartime but there is no “boot camp” for re-entry into civilian life. As someone who has experienced trauma in his life and worked with others around the world who have as well, Bannon believed that giving veterans training in photography could provide a tool to navigate the transition while helping them to cope with and share the profound experiences of war. The result is the Odyssey Workshops, a 12-week program for veterans created by Bannon that uses photography, peer support, and artist/educator mentoring to help guide participants as they process their experiences.
Led by Bannon and veteran and artist Julian Chinana, the workshops aim to teach photography skills as a means of expression to reflect on traumatic experiences and to create photos and writing that help them share those experiences with others. Each participant was given a camera and equipment, donated by Canon, for use at the workshops as well as for their own use outside of the project to encourage further creative exploration. Veterans were recruited through the nonprofit Veterans One-Stop Center but then spread through word of mouth among veterans of the Vietnam war as well as those who served in more recent conflicts in the Middle East. The project began with an overnight retreat and each workshop built on new themes, approaches, and skills designed to help the vets find their own narratives in words and pictures.
Now on view at the CEPA Gallery at Market Arcade through October 19, Odyssey I Warriors Come Home is an emotional and inspiring exhibit of the photography by 36 veterans. The exhibit begins with life-sized self-portraits created as cyanotypes, light-infused images of soldiers on fabric, hung in succession in the Market Arcade atrium. It features several galleries that include photographs and writings that focus on the soldier’s passage from home to war and back, as well as on the items the veterans carried and those left behind. The photos are haunting and thought-provoking and draw the viewer into a world touched by violence, despair, isolation, and hope.
The impact of the program has been profound on the participants, many of whom had no experience with photography. In addition to building skills and finding an outlet for their stories and emotions, the project helped the veterans develop a sense of shared community. According to Bannon, it did not take long for the vets to build relationships with one another given the opportunity for each to share their experiences freely with those who could understand. Through shared wartime experience and an interest in photography, the veterans have built friendships and connections that will further their healing and their re-entry into civilian life.
The Odyssey Project is supported by The John R. Oishei Foundation as well as The National Endowment for the Arts, M&T Bank, Canon and others.
Photos below courtesy of Odyssey I Warriors Come Home
Exhibit open through October 19, 2019, at CEPA Gallery, 617 Main Street, Buffalo
Lead photo above: Maja Kraft; top left: Chris Veltri; middle cyanotype (l-r) Ed Dudek, Maja Kraft, Alyssa Vasquez; top right: Michael Thaxton; bottom left: Brian Hamilton; bottom middle: Sam Sacco; bottom right: Alyssa Vasquez