UNSEEN—A Portrait of Uncommon Warriors is an environmental portrait of the men and women serving in the Alaska 210th & 212th Rescue Squadron stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf/Fort Richardson. This intensive project was made possible by generous grants from both the Rasmuson Foundation and the Alaska Humanities Forum, two agencies who show incredible support for Alaskan artists. The project culminated in two comprehensive exhibits in Anchorage, Alaska.
Many of us go through our lives at odds, with our jobs, the commute, our kids, our spouse. On board a 20,000 pound rescue helicopter, sitting next to men tasked with risking their lives to save others, life is distilled to its most simple elements. Decision making seems instinctual. Movement appears choreographed. All things extraneous are stripped away. The team shares a common bond, a symbiotic relationship, each man relying on the man next to him. In many cases each knows what the other is thinking, even feeling. They share a language older and more complex than words. They are part of a tribe of warriors who possess an ancient kind of courage.
For an eight month period I had the privilege to observe and talk with the men and women who work for the Alaska 210th and 212th rescue squadrons. I met with highly specialized aviation mechanics, parachute riggers, weapons experts, and medical personnel. I spent time at the Rescue Coordination Center which is the central hub for orchestrating the initial response to emergencies. I watched intense warfare training that included pararescuemen and combat rescue officers. And I flew on hair-raising missions with incredibly talented helicopter pilots and their equally capable crew members.
After talking with more than a hundred team members and watching many of these same people work, often in extreme environments and situations, a paradox emerged:
What some humans seem to thrive on more than safety, security, and even love—is living with deep purpose, and feeling necessary. But living with purpose requires conviction, sacrifice and even risk.
Being a photographer with my own purpose and objectives, I was keenly aware how my focus was on people who avoid attention, those at their best working outside the spotlight. They are humble by nature. Many of them are deeply enigmatic.
This project was a challenging, albeit rewarding endeavor. I had to balance the necessity of being close to dynamic situations—with staying out of the way. I followed my curiosity—but was cognizant of my own intrusion. I was solely reliant on individuals who are innately distrustful of reporters and photographers. I took only mental notes, I often chose to observe instead of asking questions, and I often recorded images only in my mind.
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