Playing Artist

Image by Josh Kramer and linked to from Cartoon Picayune

So there I am, on the back row, happy as a mutha f**kah.  Yeah, the guy with the hat and chops.  This is a group image of the artists (some of them) involved with the Washington DC Joe Bonham Project exhibition that opened this last weekend.  Although I have a very small showing in the exhibit because of my limited participation in the project to date, I am very honored to be invited into the group exhibit as the only photographic artist involved.  It is clear that my demonstration at McGuire VA hospital in Richmond Va. back in the spring made an impact on Mike Fay, former Marine Corps combat artist and founder of the Bonham Project. It is during that time that I would meet Jeff East (see below) and he would become the subject of my work currently displayed in the Bonham exhibit.

Jeff East – Grandfather’s WWII Helmet

I found seeing the three plates of Jeff hanging on the wall a bit strange.  Not because they are the only photographic works in the room, but because the plates were never really intended to be displayed publicly.  They were made for Jeff, a former 82nd Airborne paratrooper who is now paralyzed, to display in his home and not be seen by the masses.  After some time of seeing the images hanging on a central column, directly visible as soon as you enter the room from the street, I felt that they were in their correct place….for the moment.  Surrounded by images of so many other veterans with similar experiences and challenges, the three plates of Jeff only add to the quiet power of the exhibition.

I met some very nice people while at the opening reception, including Bonham Project artist Jess Ruliffson who has an interesting collection of comic based work she has been working on display.  She is currently working on a graphic novel that draws from her visits with the wounded service members she has met through the project.  Of all of the illustrators with work in the show, I found Jess’s work to stand out from all the rest because her method lends itself much more to the story telling aspect of the stated project objective than the one-off sketch or my photo based work, each being just a single visual moment.  You may wonder about the appropriateness of using a comic book with this type of subject matter, but there is indeed a precedence for this.   Although there are other examples, the 1991 Art Spiegelman graphic novel MAUS is probably one of the most well known.  Although I am not a huge fan of graphic novels, I do look forward to what comes from Jess’s efforts in this area.

In addition to activities related to the Joe Bonham opening, I found my self returning to Washington yet again on Nov 12th to participate in a panel discussion sponsored by Boston University’s Center for Digital Imaging Arts (CDIA) in Georgetown.  This panel was offered as part of FOTOWEEK-DC events happening across the city.  The title of the program was Witness Art and this is how BU described it:

Since 9/11 less than 1% of Americans have actively served in the military, and on the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan.  For most Americans these wars have unfolded before them on television, in print, and mostly online.  Many can tell you about them, but few can inform you about the reality of war and the warriors who fight them.

Boston University’s Center for Digital Media Arts is presenting a panel discussion featuring [arts] professionals who will share their unique experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how they tell the story of the warrior through their individual mediums: news correspondence, writing, art, photography, film, and music. Speakers will include: Mike Fay, former combat artist for the Marine Corps; Mike Phillips, a staff reported for the Wall Street Journal who has done four tours in Iraq; Phil Nesmith, a renowned wet plate Photographer who documented the Iraq war in early 2000s with the Army’s 1st Armored Division; and others.

The discussion was interesting and I am very happy to have been asked to participate.  My next blog post will be about my experience at this event so stay tuned.


~ by Phil Nesmith on November 14, 2012.

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