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The Power of the Personal Photo Project

Guest Post By Stacy Pearsall

From early on in my shooting career, I was told to always have a personal project that I was passionate about. My mentor encouraged me to stay inspired outside of my day-to-day journalism work. So I did. I started by doing a yearlong story about a three-year-old boy going through leukemia. Then I spent several months photographing a Mexican immigrant who was struggling to support her family of five. I wasn’t shooting these and other stories for any clients, but rather to better understand the world around me.

Since my first personal project, I have explored the lives of military men, womens rights, immigration, illness and teen pregnancy. However, for the last two years I have focused my efforts on photographing veterans of South Carolina. Initially it started as a small personal project, where I would set up a backdrop and small strobe lights at my local VA hospital and take portraits of the patrons. The project grew exponentially and I eventually amassed over 300 portraits. During my veteran exploration, I met so many wonderful people with extraordinary stories. The project became more than just a personal photographic project it became very personal.

As I said before, none of my personal projects were shot with the intention of publication in mind. They were simply to keep me challenged and inspired. So when the VA asked to permanently display a selection of 80 portraits from my project, I was stunned. How did they even know about it? As luck would have it, the Charleston VA was renovating their primary hallway and wanted to adorn the walls with something more personal then the average motivational posters. Thats when my personal project went public. Veterans from WWII to Operation Iraqi Freedom now don the walls of the longest hallway in my local VA. A small project that was borne from something personal to me became largely personal to every veteran who was involved.

Im more fulfilled emotionally and photographically from the personal projects I have done over the years. More importantly, each and every subjects lives have made a direct impact on mine. I will tell you as my mentor told me, When you photograph something you are emotionally tied to, you are more likely to have success.


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