From the Beginning

Filed under: Work in Progress; Author: mas; Posted: December 11, 2008 at 8:28 pm;

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About two weeks ago I was looking around the warehouse district of Minneapolis, and I stopped in at the Corner Coffee Shop (which is not on a corner) and sat down to look at a map.  The guy in the above photo sat down at the next table, and for some reason that I can’t even remember, I started talking with him.  Eventually I was sitting at his table taking pictures.

Doug Drews is a Vietnam veteran who is suffering from several serious diseases that he contracted while serving his country.  When he started telling me his story and how it fit with similar stories from thousands of other soldiers, I was enraged.  While I was absolutely against the Vietnam war, I was even more against the way the government treats its soldiers.  The vets are often denied adequate health care or at least discouraged from seeking it.  The effects of diseases and disorders contracted during the war are everlasting and life changing.  Often they are life ruining.

I had trouble grasping that after all these years, the government hadn’t yet been brought to toe the mark, and that so many of these men and women were still suffering, living in jail or on the street, or dying prematurely.  I will save the rant for a later time.  For now, all I could think of was expressing my feelings of frustration for this group of people, doing it in a constructive manner, and doing it through photography.

By the time Doug was done talking, I had already planned to do a book with portraits on the right and brief stories on the left.  I mentioned it to Doug, and he sent me to a bookstore, (literally underground) that was run by a Nam vet, who, as it turns out, won’t set foot in a VA facility, because he can’t face ever dealing with the military again.  I went to the bookstore the same afternoon, met the owner, and talked with the man who is the current leader of the local chapter of Veterans for Peace.  He invited me to the group’s holiday party next Saturday night.  I also talked to a cousin of mine in Denver who works closely with various vet service organizations.  She suggested, among other things, finding vets who were homeless and some who were in jail.

This afternoon, I met with Doug again.  He is going to get in touch with some vets from other organizations and ask them to be involved in this book project.  He also told me where to find a couple of homeless men, and he made a phone call to get the name and number of a man who is a lobbyist for veterans who are homeless or jailed.  As well, Doug will accompany me to a center for disabled veterans.

Other than the few shots I’ve taken on two occasions, sitting at the table in the coffee shop, I have not begun the actual shooting for the project.  Well, maybe I have.  I will post more on this as the project progresses.

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