I’ll never forget the day I met Air Force Staff Sergeant Stacy Pearsall (Retired.) She was with her husband (Andy) and together they coached me through a doors-off helicopter ride around Maui. Photographing from the air is something I have very little experience with. But on that day, there was something else in play. For reasons I won’t discuss here, I have trouble around helicopters – but who could resist a chance to photograph Maui from the air? So I went.
With Stacy and Andy in the back seat, I jumped in and started shooting. Stacy sensed that I was nervous and from behind me, she merely placed her hand on my shoulder in a gesture of reassurance. It was at that moment I fell in love with Stacy. Little did I know, I was sitting in a helicopter with one of the bravest and most talented photographers I’ve ever met.
Stacy Pearsall is the first female to win the coveted “Combat Photographer of the Year” award. She is the first to win it twice. During her three tours in Iraq, she earned the Bronze Star Medal and Commendation with Valor for heroic actions under fire.
While Stacy was armed with a camera, she stood alongside men who were in the middle of fierce combat. She endured amazing hardship and was forced to witness and record the deaths of men she knew well and who she considered friends. During an exchange with the enemy she helped recover the body of a dead soldier and aided her unit in defending their position.
She was injured by an IED blast on her second tour 0f Iraq, and was injured again during her third deployment. She was granted a military retirement after more than 10 years of service and today teaches and speaks about photography.
I got a chance to know Stacy a little better while we were both teaching at the Maui Photo Festival. I’ve also been on the teaching faculty with her at other conferences. Each time I see and talk with her I get to know her a little better and have come to appreciate her more and more each time.
But the thing that drew me to Stacy, beyond her kindness, is her amazing photography. The first time I saw her slide show I cried like a little girl. It was one of the most moving things I have ever seen. It is probably one of the most moving things I ever will see. I have seen several of her presentations. Each has the same impact on me – and on everyone else in the room. Her ability to capture the honor and horror of combat with a camera is incredible. Her sensitivity to people, her empathy, her vision, are all on display in her new book Shooter: Combat from Behind the Camera.
I’d say that meeting and getting the chance to become friends with Stacy has literally changed my life. She’s possibly one of the most amazing people I know and if you want to see some of the most moving photographs you’ll ever see, get her book. She deserves the support. She’s been through a great deal of pain. She still struggles with the after effects of her combat injuries. After all that, she’s still one of the most caring and beautiful people I know. I can’t imagine how she pulls it off.
Stacy Pearsall shows all of us what it’s like to be truly engaged and passionate as a photographer. As I said when I was asked by her publisher for a quote about “Shooter.”
“This book doesn’t celebrate war–it celebrates the human spirit, courage, and bravery that is required of the young men and women who risk everything to protect their country. There’s a reason that Stacy was named Combat Photographer of the Year–twice. She’s simply got the eye of an empathetic angel and the heart of the strongest lion. Buy this book – proudly display it on your coffee table and celebrate the amazing images shared here by an American hero.”