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Service members give Yuma residents a chance to see the big picture

By Cpl. Matthew Rainey | | February 10, 2006

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Military photographs taken by everyday service members were on display Friday night at the Yuma Arts Center in downtown Yuma, Ariz.

The theme for the evening, “On Duty: Photos from Iraq and Afghanistan,”  gave service members a reason to dig through their overseas photo archives for a photo worth a thousand words, and possibly a cash prize as well.

“The idea to host a photo show highlighting first-person experiences in the Persian Gulf region was a natural for a daily newspaper in a strong military town,” said Lori Stofft, the photo show coordinator. “The Sun’s business is reporting the news, whether it takes place close to home or on the other side of the world, and photographs are a big part of telling the story.

“Active-duty men and women, private contractors and reservists with ties to this area are capturing images all over the world,” explained Stofft. “This is a sampling of their experiences and impressions, illustrating how strong the connection is to a land very distant from ours.”

Some people gazed at service members’ photos because they desired to see the whole picture regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, untainted by media spin.

“We see a lot about the military on TV. Not much of what we see is very good, but we know there is more to it than they say (on the TV),” said Zell Miller, Yuma resident. “It’s nice to be able to see what some of our troops have seen.”

The ability to see through service members’ eyes is what drew many of the people in attendance to the show.

“I came because I wanted to see what they have seen,” said Ylonda Thompson, a local art enthusiast. “These photos are awesome.”

Sgt. Jemmsy Alvarez, Combat Camera photographer  and contributing artist,  agreed that many of the photos had distinct qualities about them.

“The photos here are good, and there’s a lot of diversity in the settings,” said Alvarez, an Orlando native. “A lot of the photos here are artsy and have solid photographic technique.”

Marines from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma led the way by claiming all three top spots in the photo competition.

Master Sgt. Richard Lehron, Combat Service Support Company 133 and native of Steubenville, Ohio, claimed the show’s top honor, the award of “Best of Show,” with his photo titled “Evening Prayer.” Lehron took his photo of a lone Marine kneeling to pray as the sun was setting while Lehron was deployed to Camp Coyote, Kuwait, as part of the 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

“It’s most unusual, but it’s a good-looking photo,” Miller commented about Lehron’s photo.

Alvarez took the next highest award with his photo, “Providing Security.” Alvarez snapped “Providing Security” during his time in Afghanistan with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.

“It reminded me of the movie, ‘We were Soldiers,’” said Thompson about Alvarez‘s photo.

Alvarez maintained that as a military photographer, he is constantly in a position to take a great photo.

“It was a photo of opportunity,” said Alvarez. “It’s nothing special, just a sample of the same thing I do every day.”

Capt. Ravi Dharnidharka, Marine Attack Squadron 311 AV-8B Harrier II pilot and native of Stockton, Calif., captured second place with “Mission,” a photo he took  while he was flying above Iraq.

Dharnidharka’s photo featured an airborne harrier with an American flag in the foreground, which kept many viewers asking aloud, “How did he do that?”

All of the photo entries were judged by the photo staff at The Sun newspaper, said Stofft.

The photo exhibit will continue to run at the Yuma Art Center until April 17.

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