Among Heroes in Bedford Virginia

Bedford, Virginia. D-Day Veterans. Elevation Advertising.

It always feels important when doing a portrait project to do right by my subjects, to capture the stories and layers of character revealed in the angles and lines of a face. I love the honest relationship between lens and subject. All of this felt like both pressure and possibility when presented with the opportunity to make portraits of D-Day Veterans with Frank Gilliam and team at Elevation Advertising for National D-Day Memorial Foundation’s 75 anniversary “Pass the Flag” campaign

On the morning of the project, I woke up to a dead battery in the hotel parking lot. I got a jump, drove to the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, unloaded my gear and drove back through the mountains to a local garage in search of a new battery. I’m no stranger to the area, my parents grew up in the Virginia mountains, and I know the tight knit nature of the community there. When I pulled up to the garage, the tall, and wholly unamused, owner walked out to ask what I wanted – and why I was there. I said that I was going to photograph D-Day Veterans in Bedford. His demeanor changed instantly and he said quietly “They don’t make them like that anymore.”

The definition of a hero is complicated, situational and often personal. But here in the Virginia Mountains, a place with an ingrained community history of grief and solemn pride tied to their own neighbors and family members – heroes – who were lost or changed on the beaches of Normandy, the definition is straightforward. That the national D-Day Memorial is located in tiny Bedford, VA is testament to the reverence and commitment to preserving their legacy.

Being reminded of that deep tie to this place, and knowing the power of a portrait, I drove back to our location ready to honor the pressure and possibility of getting to photograph D-Day Veterans at this memorial. The honor was mine to slow down, and consider the definition of a hero, at a time when the flashiest, loudest superheroes dominate our box office landscape. This project gave me the opportunity to be present in the company of these heroes, and it was a privilege.