East TN veterans featured in national photography project

(WBIR-Maryville) A former combat photographer is making a special appearance in East Tennessee.

Decorated Air Force Veteran Stacy Pearsall is serving as the artist-in-residence at Maryville College this week. On Wednesday, she took portraits of local veterans as part of her Veterans Portrait Project (VPP).

"It dawned on me that some of them had never had a portrait taken since the time they actually served in the military," Pearsall said.

The project is a national campaign to document veterans from every generation and branch of service. Pearsall started it while recovering from her own combat injuries. She is now medically retired.

"It became a way of archiving veterans' history and stories. And without an opportunity to reach out and touch them in this level, they would have just gone unknown," Pearsall said.

Staff Sergeant Sean Hagstrom, 26, of Oak Ridge served seven years with the U.S. Marine Corps.

"I'm fresh out of the Marine Corps so the photographs that they pretty much take of us are straight-faced, serious," Hagstrom said.

Pearsall took Hagstrom's photo, as part of the VPP, at the Clayton Center for the Arts.

"The interesting thing is a lot of people don't realize there are younger people who are veterans," Hagstrom said.

Sara Daniels, 24, of Knoxville served in the Marine Corps for five years as an intelligence specialist. She added, "I get that a lot. It's like, 'You're a veteran? I thought you were like 17.'"

Daniels is vice president of Maryville College's Student Veteran Association.

"Students here can't relate to what I've done. In classes, they don't understand why I am the way I am. But the other veterans here on campus, other veterans that I talk to out in town, they understand. They know," she said.

Daniels hopes the photos can serve as a connection between the military and the public.

Pearsall's exhibit of photography called "Shooter" is on display in the Blackberry Farm Gallery of the Clatyon Center for the Arts on Maryville College's campus.

The exhibit is free and open to the public. It ends on Friday. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.


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