Two photographs are taken and then merged into one. The single image reveals a person looking at their reflection in the mirror, in different clothing. It seems a simple concept, but when applied to veterans, photographer Devin Mitchell’s Veteran Art Project gives a powerful view of military service and the back stories of the individuals underneath the uniform.
“I don’t interview them, all I ask is if they’re [a] veteran and if I can come and take their picture,” Mitchell told The Washington Post’s TM Gibbons-Neff. “This is an opportunity for people to speak without having to say something.”
And Mitchell’s photos speak a thousand words.
In one photo posted to Mitchell’s Instagram page, uniformed Marine Cpl. Brad Ivanchan looks out at his veteran self, now in civilian attire. His rolled up pants reveal both legs replaced with prosthetics, a result of his stepping on an improvised explosive device in Sangin, Afghanistan, The Post reported.
There are others, many of which break the stereotype of the “typical” veteran. There is Leyla Webb, a Muslim woman, who dressed in traditional Islamic garb for her photo shoot. Eric Smith wrote “Pride” in red ink on his chest as he looks to himself putting on his Army uniform, signifying his service as a gay soldier.
“A lot of veterans feel they’re misunderstood,” Mitchell told Yahoo News. “And they don’t have a voice or platform. Even though these pictures don’t have audio, I feel they still speak very loudly.”
It’s up to the individual veteran how they want their photo to be taken. Some are photographed in full dress uniform, while others may wear combat gear. Perhaps one of the most powerful images thus far is from Dave and Daphne Bye, two Marines once married who took their photographs together, despite their recent divorce.
“I think it’s important for everybody to understand that even though we looked happy on the outside and that we truly did try for us and our daughter there’s only so much you can do when the issues are within yourself,” Daphne told The Post, noting the couple’s struggle with post traumatic stress disorder.
Now a junior at Arizona State University, the 27-year-old Mitchell began his project as a photo essay that would hopefully get him into graduate school. Despite finding it difficult to find veterans to shoot initially, his goal now is 10,000 photos, and his email inbox has been flooded with requests.
Since he’s still a student, Mitchell — who completes classes remotely from where he lives in Los Angeles — has limited means to travel to veterans. If you’d like to participate (especially in the L.A. area), you can email him here.
Check out some more of the photos below and be sure to follow the project on Instagram: