John Moore’s New Portraits of Heroes at Home
The Heroes at Home project for Sears was a really nice collaboration and something entirely different for me. I do very few corporate assignments in my role as a staff photographer for the Getty Images news division, but this particular project for Global Assignments by Getty Images caught my eye because of the subject material – wounded war veterans. I have spent much of the last decade photographing our military service members in combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. I’ve also documented the lives of wounded vets once they return home. For me, this assignment was a natural match.
The initial contact with the client was through a very nontraditional route. Sears had contracted the advertising agency Taxi Branding for their Heroes at Home campaign and Taxi had come across my work on a terrific photo blog called Raw Take. Mike Davis, a photo consultant guru, who runs the blog, had interviewed me back in 2008 and featured some of my conflict photography on the site. So, through that blog, the agency reached out to Nell Murray, head of Getty Images commercial photo assignment division. It was Taxi’s idea to bring me on to do a portrait series of the veterans, and they also wanted us to film a documentary of the journey, partly through my eyes, but mainly through the stories of the Veterans. I interviewed them at length about their experiences at war and what it was like to return to the US afterward. Nell commissioned Shaul Schwarz as the director of photography for the documentary and MediaStorm to edit and put the multimedia piece together.
For this project, mine was in a different role than usual. I am a documentary photographer, used to showing people in their natural environment, doing what they do, often in very difficult circumstances. For this project, we did portraiture photography which is another type of photography altogether, so I enjoyed doing something different. We hired a lighting assistant in each location, who helped me with some of the technical details to get the look we’d envisioned for the portraits. I also played an active role in the film documentary. I interviewed all the veterans and my travel was also part of the story, so I was on camera much of the time. Being on the other end of the lens was a new experience, but Shaul and his crew are pros, which made it easy. Normally I tend to work alone. With the Heroes project, I was traveling as part of a group of ten people, which included our production crew as well as executives and creatives from both Taxi Branding and Sears.
We started out with two days with our first veteran Derek Gagne, in Menominee, Michigan. Derek, an amputee from the Iraq War, was a great first subject. He had already served as a veteran’s advocate and had worked with media before. He also had a great sense of humor.
Next, we all drove down to Sheboygan, Wisconsin to spend two days with Itzela Botzao, a wonderful and gentle veteran with three great kids. She suffers from PTSD from her time in the service and really opened her heart during the interviews. Her story was emotionally intense and I think really affected all of us in the crew.
We then all flew to Ft. Lauderdale, where we spent another four days with two veterans and their families. Vietnam vet Steve Nieves, who suffers from cancer as a result of exposure to Agent Orange during the war, brought the perspective of a more mature veteran to the project. His home was a modest, low-ceilinged, one-story house, so setting up our large mobile studio was tricky. I’ll just say that he and his family were very kind to let us basically move all their furniture into the backyard, so we could shoot in their living room.
Our last subject was Hugo Gonzales, who was shot in the face in Iraq and left mostly blind. What a wonderful person, so genuine and honest. His wife and three daughters really brought some light and joy to our visit and to the film. It’s not all that common for commercial clients to bring in documentary journalists to tell a powerful narrative such as this and I give Sears much credit for that. I also appreciate Taxi Branding for coming up with a strong concept and seeing it through. It was all for a really great cause, to help raise money for non-profits that help some of our country’s greatest heroes – our wounded veterans.
See the complete documentary and more information about the program at Sears.