November is the month for veterans, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks is celebrating its own with an installation in the heart of campus.
The new photography installation, an Honor Wall celebrating UAF’s veterans, opened Thursday in Arctic Java, the cafe inside the UAF Wood Center.
JR Ancheta, chief photographer and videographer for the university, was taking photos through the week of Veterans Day. He said the goal was to have the portraits by Thursday to “honor and celebrate our veterans on campus with an opening reception.”
During the reception Thursday evening, a crowd of about 20 people gathered in the cafe to look at the results.
“It was actually a great experience; I really, really felt honored to be a part of it,” said Nicholas Dugger, a student veteran who participated in the project and spoke at the reception.
A photo of Dugger is one of the many that Ancheta took. Pictured in the installation are UAF faculty, staff, students, alumni and supporters who served in the military.
“I would do it again next year,” Dugger said.
Dugger left the Army as a staff sergeant in September after six years in the service. Dugger said during his speech that he felt privileged to be at UAF and his goal is to graduate with a degree in engineering.
“So what can UAF students and faculty do for our student veterans? Well, we’re not looking for a handout, but we are looking for a hand to help us,” he said. “In short, we are looking for mentorship and education. We are hungry to learn and better ourselves so we can reach the goals we have set outside of the military.”
Tutoring, understanding of nontraditional student status or one-on-one personal development meetings to discuss career paths were all examples Dugger gave for ways the university could help veterans.
UAF Chancellor Dan White said during his time at the mic that he hopes people on campus will engage with veterans and talk with them about things that have affected their lives.
He mentioned the signs on campus that state “You Belong Here,” noting these apply to everybody, including veterans.
“So, thank you, looking back for all that you’ve done, but thank you most importantly moving forward to what you will do,” he said.
As he spoke, 65 black and white portraits, including Dugger’s, faced the audience from the wall behind him.
Framed around the portraits are long scrolls of black paper, where submitted photos, stories or names of veterans will be posted throughout the month. There’s also a wall where people can add red, white and blue pegs, depending on their affiliations with the military. Red pegs are for dependents, spouses and family members; white pegs are for active duty service members, reservists and National Guard members; and blue pegs are for veterans.
Given the open submissions, David Nestor, who works with Military and Veteran Services and was emcee for the night, said he thinks the exhibition has the potential to double in size.
“Every person that’s here, essentially, is an ambassador for the wall now to go out and share with others, so I’d be surprised if it didn’t grow quickly,” he said.
Military and Veteran Services assisted with the project by giving out flyers and helping spread the word, Nestor said.
Ancheta worked on a similar photography project as a student in 2014. This year, Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management Mary Kreta approached him for the new project.
“The Department of Military and Veteran Services does something every year for Veterans Day,” Kreta said. “Last year, we had an event and had Maj. Gen. (Laurie) Hummel come and speak to the student population, and this year we decided to do something more visual and that would be here for the entire month of November, not just one day.”
Addressing a small crowd of veterans and community members at the opening, Ancheta talked with people about the approach he used for shooting portraits.
The photos are in black and white across the board. The absence of color, he said, makes the portraits more abstract, so that people don’t concentrate on extraneous details, such as clothing or hair color.
“We are concentrating on the human element of the person in the picture,” Ancheta said, “and the one thing that unifies these men and women is that they have served our country, and I think highlighting them is great.”
He encouraged people to tell those pictured “hello” and thanked Kreta and the admissions office for helping make the project a reality.
People affiliated with the university looking to submit photos of themselves or their military-affiliated family members may do so at bit.ly/uafhonorwall.
Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her on Twitter at: twitter.com/FDNMlocal.