When I enlisted in the Army, I did not know that my family had a strong history of service in both the American and British militaries. I had no idea that both my grandfathers had served, and that my father’s grandfather had been wounded in the trenches of the First World War. I knew none of this until one day, home on leave after just having finished Airborne training, I discovered some portraits of a young man in the uniform of a British paratrooper (see below right). He was smiling, and in his beret he looked just like me. Suddenly, I had a connection to my grandfather and heritage that I’d never enjoyed while he was still alive. In subsequent years, I’ve been fortunate to find portraits of my other grandfather in his US Army Air Corps uniform, and in all of these portraits a sense of decorum and formality is balanced against the personality of the subject in a manner seldom seen in today’s commercial portraiture. These portraits are treasured pieces of family history.
My purpose in this project is to learn what makes a military portrait good. I draw on elements of formal portraiture, vintage glamour photography, and more personality-driven work that even approaches the snapshot aesthetic. I am working to reverse-engineer the principles upon which the “rules” of traditional portraiture are based, in some cases by respecting these “rules” and in some cases by breaking or subverting them. I am studying the visual language of leadership, heroism, strength, masculinity and femininity, and how these archetypal qualities blend with more individual traits. In these portraits, I attempt to make every "technical" decision exclusively in pursuit of illustrating some aspect of these individuals’ character as I see it, without superfluous embellishment on my part. Every image is of someone I respect and admire, and in a sense every image represents a portrait of how I would aspire to be remembered by my descendants in years to come.