Stacy Pearsall '05 sets up her Veterans Portrait Project studio at Newhouse

By Georgie Silvarole

November 5, 2015

The MVJ graduate and "50Forward" honoree photographed nearly 50 vets


Recovering from combat injuries left Stacy Pearsall ‘05 in “a dark place.”

Spending time in medical waiting rooms with other veterans sparked the photographer’s thoughts about their stories—and how she could use her camera to tell them.

Pearsall started the Veterans Portrait Project to collect and preserve the faces and stories of her friends and fellow service members. To date, she has shot nearly 5,000 portraits of veterans from all over the world.

The 2005 graduate of the Military Visual Journalism program at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, who was recently honored at the Newhouse School’s “50Forward” celebration, returned to campus this week to take photos of veterans from campus and the community. Pearsall set up her studio in the lobby of the newly renovated Newhouse Studio & Innovation Center on Wednesday and Thursday. She expected between 40 and 50 servicemen and women to visit and have their photo taken.

Jordan Robinson, a public diplomacy master’s student and president of the Syracuse University Student Veterans Organization, had her photo taken Wednesday. Robinson’s service in the Marine Corps on Embassy Security Duty took her to 30 countries in three years.

Robinson recalled interviewing Pearsall for a feature story she was working on, and says Pearsall’s project had another point of origin.

“Basically, she lost some of her close friends in battle, and that day she decided to start photographing them, because you never know when it’s the last time you’ll see them,” Robinson says. “I think that the Veterans Portrait Project is so important because every veteran has a story to tell.”

Pearsall joined the Air Force in 1998 at the age of 17, and permanently retired from her service in 2010 due to combat disability.

“When I was initially wounded and trying to rehab, it was a dark time in my life,” Pearsall says. Since launching the project, she’s learned that her studio — no matter where it’s located that day — becomes a safe place for vets to get their stories “off their shoulders.”

One Vietnam veteran, Pearsall says, said his job was to identify service members who had been killed. Identifying remains, he said, was gruesome and sickening. Sometimes all he had to work with were bones.

“That’s a really horrible job,” Pearsall says. “And his wife was crying over my shoulder saying, ‘I never knew what my husband did in the service and why he always has nightmares — thank you.’ ”

Pearsall’s project has taken her all over the country and the world. She recently returned from the United Kingdom where she was helping another photographer set up a similar project for his country’s service members.

“A lot of veterans need to feel like they have a safe place,” Pearsall says, adding that her project has provided that for her and for other vets. “It’s been really wonderful.”

An exhibit of Pearsall’s work, entitled “Hard Earned: The Military Photographs of Stacy Pearsall" is on display at the Syracuse University Art Galleries, now through Jan. 24, 2016.

Georgie Silvarole is a junior newspaper and online journalism major at the Newhouse School.

Photos by Chase Guttman, a sophomore photography major at the Newhouse School.