Veterans see the world through a new lens

Merrick Library unveils new photography exhibit ‘Veterans in Focus’


Photography is a window into another person’s mind. Richard Laskowski, 70, of East Islip, said that he was taught this through the Josephine Herrick Foundation’s eight-week program called “Veterans in Focus.”

Through the course, participants from the Babylon and Nassau Vet Centers learned the basics of photography and contributed their images to a gallery that will be on display at the Merrick Library throughout December.

During the gallery’s grand opening on Dec. 3, Laskowski, who served in the Vietnam War, pointed to a photo of a man sitting on a bench. “Look at that,” he said. “Someone though it was interesting enough, so he memorialized it.”

Many of the participants said that they enrolled in the course to learn a new skill set, but took away a meaningful experience and fostered stronger bonds with their fellow veterans.

“For many of the veterans, [photography] will have changed their way of thinking and their approach to life,” said Jessica Wannamaker, executive director of the Josephine Herrick Foundation.

Since 1941, the foundation has been helping veterans adjust to post-war life by providing them with free photography courses. This, Wannamaker said, not only helps veterans flex their creative muscles, but also reacquaints them with their community. Funded by the New York State Council on the Arts and Regional Economic Development Council, “Veterans in Focus” was the first program of its kind to be offered by the Herrick foundation on Long Island.

Ed Perzedwiecki, 69, a Massapequa Park veteran of the Vietnam War, said that he was encouraged to explore new areas of Long Island through the course, including Babylon Village, Bethpage State Park and Massapequa Preserve. “It got me out of my shell,” he said. “And I got to meet and become friends with a lot more veterans.”

Perzedwiecki said that he enrolled in the course so he could take photos of his grandchildren. Now, he plans to shoot their Christmas photos.

“After the third or so class I started seeing photography in everything,” said Bill Taylor, 67, of Oceanside, who took photos from three separate angles in order to alter his viewer’s perception.

Andrew Johnson, 69, of Levittown, said that the class helped him see the world through a new lens. The Vietnam veteran explained that he has suffered from anger management in the past and signed up for a yoga class to alleviate it. Photography, he added, proved to be just as relaxing.

Hector Rene, 29, of Brooklyn, was one of the course’s instructors and has been a public affairs photographer for the U.S. Military since 2009. “I jumped at the opportunity to work with other vets,” Rene said, of his decision to teach the course. “[My class] is like my tribe now.”