Through Their Lens: Veterans find artistic outlet through photography

Listen Now
16min 01sec
Veterans Photos Photographers Photography CPAC Colorado Photographic Arts Center
Courtesy "From the Hip Photo"
Photographs taken by veteran Jason Alfaro on display at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center in the exhibit “Through Their Lens: Personal Projects By Veterans,” in January 2024.

In 2017, the Colorado Photographic Arts Center (CPAC) initiated a community-based program for veterans with the goal of nurturing their photography skills. This program, known as the Veterans Workshop Series, has been growing each year, providing a platform for veterans to develop their artistic voices through photography.

Jason Alfaro and Robert Grimmer, veterans and graduates of the CPAC Veterans Workshop Series are showing their work in the current showcase of the veterans' personal projects titled "Through Their Lens | Personal Projects By Veterans."

Samantha Johnston, the executive director and curator, emphasizes CPAC's commitment to community outreach and the importance of providing ongoing support to veterans. The Veterans Workshop Series not only teaches photography skills but also establishes a lasting community for veterans to connect with.

“There's a larger photo community they're now a part of, but then there's also the veteran photo community as part of this workshop that they're a part of. And all of that is really important and has been really, really powerful.” Johnston said.

Jason Alfaro, a workshop graduate, said he stumbled upon the program through an email from Metropolitan State University of Denver. The networking opportunities and the chance to work on a meaningful project piqued his interest. His project followed a classmate and fellow Army veteran during his equine therapy. Alfaro showcases the therapeutic bond between veterans and rescue horses.

“It just all started kind of improvising, seeing how it all went. And I think the project went well, actually. He was always bringing his dog, his service animal, Boaz, who had a very close connection to one of the horses that he worked with who was named Summer. And all those horses at that ranch are rescue horses, and it all just kind of fell into place,” Alfaro said. 

Robert Grimmer, another workshop graduate, shared his journey, which intertwined with his volunteer work as a medic in Ukraine. He emphasized the therapeutic aspect of photography and encouraged veterans to explore it as a hobby.

“Around the time that I had submitted the Veterans Workshop application, I was also applying to work as a volunteer medic in Ukraine for a non-governmental organization. It's called Global Outreach Doctors, and they're similar to Doctors Without Borders basically. They have been in Ukraine for over a year providing medical support to the Ukrainian Army,” explained Grimmer.

It turns out he was accepted to both the photography program and the medical program at the same time. Rather than choose one over the other, he figured out a way to do both.

“So I was serving as a medic but also had cameras in hand and took pictures as I could. The frustrating thing was passing up the opportunity to take a really good photo. You can't really pause patient care for a great shot, so I had to incorporate both of them," said Grimmer. "I mean, my primary task was being a medic, but I had some opportunities to take some pictures and I thought they turned out pretty good, the ones I had.”

When discussing their hopes for the exhibition, Alfaro and Grimmer emphasized the importance of networking, sharing meaningful stories, and offering a therapeutic outlet for veterans.

They expressed a desire for visitors to understand the unique perspectives of veterans through their photography.

Veterans Photos Photographers Photography CPAC Colorado Photographic Arts Center
Courtesy "From the Hip Photo"
Veterans gather for a group photo at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center which features their works in an exhibition called "Through Their Lens: Personal Projects By Veterans."

Johnston encouraged visitors to not only appreciate the visual aspect of the exhibition but also engage with the written statements accompanying each project. She emphasized the diversity of projects, reflecting individual experiences and stories.

As CPAC celebrates its 60th year and settles into its new space, the "Through Their Lens | Personal Projects By Veterans" exhibition is on view through Feb. 17, 2024.