Ten years ago, Chief Petty Officer Second Class (CPO 2) John Penner spearheaded the Veteran’s Portrait Project in hopes of capturing the many faces of Canada’s veterans.
Located on Vancouver Island, Penner is currently a serving member of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) with 34 years of service. He has also been involved in photography and veterans’ causes for several years.
The idea for this project came to Penner when he was observing a Remembrance Day ceremony about 11 years ago.
Project Inspired By Portrait
“There was a gentleman there who I don’t believe was a veteran, but he was holding an incredibly old photograph of what I assume was a family member in uniform from the Second World War era. Him standing there at the Remembrance Day ceremony holding this 8 x 10 picture of an uncle or a grandfather or somebody was extremely powerful,” he explained.
If you are a veteran, parent, sibling, or spouse of a Veteran, you can get a free 8 × 10 portrait by arranging a session with Penner, who has 30 years of photography experience.
His goal is to create a body of work that can be displayed across the country to raise public awareness about Canadian Veterans, their causes and to show the public that a Canadian Veteran is much more than just an old gentleman with medals on his overcoat on Remembrance Day.
The people who participate in it are generally incredibly positive, according to Penner.
Initial Response – Why?
He noted, often, the initial response is, “what do you mean? You’re giving something away for nothing? No one does that,” he continued to explain. “I’m met with a bit of skepticism, and a lot of times, people look at it and sort of make the assumption that maybe I’m trying to sell them something, or this is a sort of a buildup to a sales pitch, which is not the case.”
Penner sees this project as a means to do a couple of things, one of which is people deserve a nice picture.
He noted, “When I grew up, my mum was the photographer. She had the Kodak Instamatic in her purse, and she took all the family vacation photos such as they were. So, when she passed away several years ago, I noticed there are a million photos of my brothers, my father, myself, and one photo of my mom, and that was because she was always the one taking the pictures.”
When thinking about this, he thought there’s probably a lot of people in a similar situation and said, “while photographers can feel like dentists, he would like people to take advantage of this project. “A lot of people who come to us really don’t want to be there. It is something we see all the time with families. The thing to remember is you are not really doing this for yourself. You’re doing this for your children, your relatives, you know, people down the road. So, it is important to create and preserve those memories because when you don’t have them, you will regret it.”
Part of the enjoyment for Penner is the ability to meet amazing people and listen to their stories. He has been privileged to meet and photograph veterans who landed on D-Day, veterans torpedoed in the Atlantic during the Second World War, members who have been in Afghanistan, and Canadian service personnel.
“It hits the whole gamut from the traditional view of veterans to young folks who have come in done a few years and then decided to move on,” he added.
Veterans and Serving Members Encouraged to Participate
Anyone interested in sitting for a portrait is encouraged to contact either Penner or one of the other photographers that are now participating.
There are three other photographers located in Angus ON, Trenton ON, and Montreal, QC. All of them have a different look and a slightly different approach, but the concept is the same across the board. The images taken in the sessions may be made available to organizations and causes that support Canadian Veterans’ rights and advancement.
People who want to participate as photographers can contact Penner, and he will add them to his website as a participating photographer.
“You don’t have to be an expert in portraiture. If you have an interest, I’m more than happy to spend time working with folks to bring their skills up to where they would need to be for something like this,” he informed.
To view a selection of the photographs Penner has taken over the years, people are encouraged to check out the gallery located on his website here.