EATON — The “Guardians: Never Forget Their Stories” photography project visited Eaton V.F.W. Post 8066 on Saturday, Sept. 15, to film local veterans telling their stories.
The project’s mission is to simply tell and show honor to the stories of veterans from across the globe.
Founder Michael Thomas is a veteran himself, so this project is from hero-to-hero, organically meant to show their truths.
“Essentially, what happened, is a couple of the people here today are students of mine. I teach a photography program called Operation Meraki, and it teaches veterans the use of photography as an alternative means of therapy for traumatic experience. Once people started opening up in class, they started telling their stories for the first time. It became a call of action for me. At that point, I knew I had to be the historian for people who have been in conflicts,” Thomas said.
“The idea was, to take those stories and present them to the full population of all conflicts to show the common thread and to tell the stories from generations to generations. We connect with different VFWs and veteran service organizations and tell them the project. They say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ — if they do say ‘yay’ we show them a whole plan and show them how it is going to happen.”
“This is a veteran-to-veteran project,” Thomas said. “This is us opening up and telling the world about us and the things we’ve experienced. It is giving a springboard to generations who normally don’t know about these conflicts.”
When the group comes into an organization, they set up two different areas — one for pictures and one for videos. First, they photograph the veteran whom they are going to interview. Then, they bring the individual in front of a camera to tell his or her stories.
Each veteran has as much time as he or she wants to tell all the stories he or she wants to.
After this is completed, the veterans are welcome to sit around and reminisce some more. This allows the members of the Guardians team to interact one-on-one with different veterans.
Once this project is complete, there will be a soft-opening gallery, showing a black and white head shot and a video of each person talking, which observers will listen to with headphones.
“I want to create that, because I think sometimes people see us in uniform, but out of uniform we are broken in society,” Thomas said. “There are so many things that we can offer society from our experiences and our stories. This is what the project is birthed out of,” he said.
“We are a gap between generations. You have a veteran who is in WWII and a veteran who was in OIFOEF, the common thread is that they have been in conflict,” Thomas added. “They can talk to one another about the fight. It tells the true essence of the soldier, the marine, the seaman. It is very important for us, as a society, to see what our heroes did for us.”
Thus far, Thomas has spoken to 85 different veterans for the project. The soft gallery launch should be in December, with a hard gallery opening in February. Thomas hopes to come back to Eaton to film more veterans telling their stories.
For more information, visit guardiansphotoproject.com.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH