Conduct Becoming: A Survey of Distinction
The only thing I like better than telling a good story, is hearing a great story. What I love even better is if I am given permission to translate that story into compelling images. Most of my work starts with this premise: telling a story through images. This series, Conduct Becoming: A Survey of Distinction, grew out of a partnership with the University of Michigan Medical School. Originally Commissioned to do simple head shots of veterans, I quickly realized there was much more to share.
While putting together the treatment and background work for this project, it was obvious I had an opportunity to take this project a step further and create environmental portraits of the veterans I would be photographing. I wanted to create a study of the professional versus the private, the soldier versus the individual; the contrast of these elements is highlighted by the use of a chiaroscuro style of lighting.
The military focuses specifically on stripping the young civilian of his or her individuality and recreating him or her into one of a million other identical soldiers. This is, of course, not without good reason. I became very interested in what this sameness becomes when it is mixed with the individual and their experiences through the lens of time. Observing this shared identity and the way in which it manifests in their lives post-military was only possible by experiencing their personal environments.
I came to this project with preconceived notions of what the military is. As a photographer and an artist, you might well imagine what these notions were. However, after hearing the stories of these great men and women, I have found that my ideas about the military have changed. I might go so far as to say I found myself feeling disappointed that I had not offered my service to the country. My hope is for this work is to be a contribution and to somehow pay homage to those who have served. It has been my great honor to be able to tell these stories.
RECOGNIZE. PRESERVE. HERALD.
This is what we know: everyday 22 US veterans commit suicide. This year in our country, 8000 men and women, 5000 of whom are over the age 55, who have courageously and selflessly protected our nation are taking their own lives. Furthermore, according to the National Institutes of Health, hundreds of thousands of veterans (survivors of the Vietnam, 1st Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars) are currently living with PTSD. Many of these veterans do not have access to, or are not seeking clinical support due to a strong stigma of mental health issues, particularly in the armed services community.
As a nation, we owe it to our service men and women to do better. We owe it to them to Recognize, Preserve and Herald their incredible bravery and sacrifice so that they can live their fullest lives after returning from active duty. The Conduct Becoming Foundation’s vision is to build one small bridge between the men and women who protect our country, with the citizens whom they protect. We are building these bridges by meeting with veterans, one at a time, to listen to their stories, empathize with their struggles, and honor their experiences and triumphs. We are not a clinical organization, however, understand that there are therapeutic benefits in telling one's story, especially for a community that is oftentimes voiceless.
In 2014, our founder C.J. Breil was commissioned to photograph and interview 30 veterans of all ages, races, and genders for the University of Michigan Medical School. This was a transformative experience that ignited a new passion for this seasoned photographer. Using his own funding, he began creating a series of images called Conduct Becoming: Surveys in Distinction, Personal Environmental Portraits of the Professional Soldier. He reached out to more and more veterans and has now photographed and interviewed more than 80 individuals across the country. The feedback he received from the veterans was awe-inspiring, with many experiencing an almost cathartic release after getting to talk freely and candidly about their time during and after service. The human connection in these interactions is invaluable and serves as one therapeutic outlet that can potentially be a lifesaver. There is a reverence and a respect for their sacrifice that goes beyond “thank you for your service”.
After meeting these incredible men and women and hearing the direct feedback about their interview and photographic session experience, it was then that C.J. decided that he wanted to make a larger contribution in honor of our veterans and thus started Conduct Becoming The Foundation.