CHARLESTON, SC (WCBD) – A Charleston-based artist with a background in combat photography is receiving national attention for her work.
When Stacy Pearsall was stationed in Charleston in 2002, she decided it had too much to offer to ever leave.
Pearsall joined the Air Force at 17 and as a photographer, she traveled to more than 40 countries and did three tours of action. She earned the Bronze Star Medal and Air Force Commendation with Valor for combat actions in Iraq.
Now Pearsall is devoting time to art and helping fellow veterans heal by taking their portraits as a way to tell their stories.
“I had to experience my events in combat and those portraits in order to do what I am doing today,” she saidl.
Her work will soon be heading to Washington, D.C. where Pearsall’s collection — called “The Face of Battle: American at War, 9/11 to Now” — will be on display at the National Portrait Gallery starting in April.
It was while she was in the waiting room of a V.A. hospital and recovering from a combat injury that she met a certain World War II veteran.
The encounter lifted her spirits and inspired her to document his experiences.
After that — she decided to show up to all of her V.A. appointments with a camera in hand. Pearsall started what’s called the Veterans Portrait Project, a nonprofit that documents the stories and photographs of those who served.
“I sought to show what happens when the bullets weren’t flying – to capture combat’s physical and emotional toll, illustrate the intimate bonds forged under fire and the personal solitude felt by many despite being surrounded by people,” explains Pearsall. “I wanted to demonstrate there’s more to war than bullets – there’s a human beings.”
In her first year she took more than 100 portraits in Charleston alone.
“I set a goal that I would photograph veterans in every state from which the U.S. recruits for the military,” she said.
How it works: Pearsall sets up a remote studio and gets to know each veteran signed up for the program. She listens to their stories. Then, she takes their portrait.
Each veteran walks away with their own copy to share with family and friends.
“Something I had never foreseen when starting the project was often times this is the first opportunity and the first time they had the opportunity to talk about their military experience,” she said.