With enough time in photography, most photographers begin to gravitate towards genres and subject matters that mean the most to them. Utah-based photographer Steve Proctor began to move towards the stories of WWII soon after his passion for photography increased. He has photographed the Normandy beaches multiple times, revisiting the now-quiet battlefields that changed history. True to the holiday today of July 4th, we asked Steve to describe this deeply personal project.
Pictureline: Tell us about the Normandy beaches and your affinity for photographing the sites and people of WWII.
Steve Proctor: "The coastline of France in the Normandy area offer some of the most beautiful scenery and opportunities to view the coastline and the little towns that dot the landscape. I find the areas to be picturesque and unique. When you add that to the historical significance of what took place there almost 70 years ago, it holds great meaning for the history of France and the world. This is the classic battle of Good vs. Evil. The liberation of the European continent began on these beaches. It was the effort of so much cooperation and preparation as nations of democracy sought to free the nations from tyranny. The struggle was waged by very young men, who took on the responsibility of fighting for freedom with bravado, courage, daring and persistence. Each of them walked into the hail of gunfire willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. When the battle was won, they came home, restarted their lives and went on to build America. Each of the soldiers came from different backgrounds: rich and poor, educated and not, from the California Coast to the West Virginia Coal country. But, they all formed up for one cause: freedom. It's a story that should never cease to be told."
Pictureline: Tell us about how you got started with this project and how you have found these veterans.
Steve Proctor: "I participate in a photo group that meets monthly. Each month, we prepare work for display and critique. I have had an interest in WWII since I was a boy and listened to my uncles and dad talk about the war and growing up during the war years. When I was a kid, we always played cowboys and Indians or "war." Our generation grew up right after the war ended. I heard a neighbor talking about his experiences one time and thought, "I wonder how many vets live in my neighborhood?" One thing lead to another and I decided to see if they wouldn't mind being interviewed and included into a little book project--basically for my own experience. I started with a couple that live close by, and one interview lead to another, and then another and so far I have done about 20 interviews. I hope to do more...but time is running out as the vets pass on."
Pictureline: These are all in black and white. Why have you chosen this medium?
Steve Proctor: "I love black and white photographs. I love the contrast and frankness it brings the image. As you talk to the veterans, you quickly realize that they are all no nonsense..pretty much black and white in their beliefs and comments so the medium seems to fit the situation. Plus--I have a bit of color blindness...so it is easier for me."
Pictureline: Specifically, tell us about the locations in the images and their history and significance.
Steve Proctor: "The images were taken near the town of Ste. Mere Eglise. It was the first town liberated on the day of the invasion. They are of Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, and Pointe du Hoc which divides the two areas. These two beaches were assigned to the American Component of the invasion force. The other three beaches (Gold, Juno, and Sword) were assigned to the Britsh and Canadians. Omaha was by far the bloodiest of the battles with heavy casualities from the start of the invasion. The Germans were well prepared with a lot of their defences concentrated on Omaha. Pointe du Hoc was the location of two heavy artillery implacements which overlooked Utah and Omaha. A group of rangers was assigned to take out the guns while the infantry divisions assaulted the beaches. Taking out the big guns protected the beaches and the ships bringing the in the men and material."
Pictureline: What else should we know about your WWII photographic projects?
Steve Proctor: "That if anyone knows a vet, I would love to get their story. That this part of history needs to be passed on. If you are ever near one of these locations, stop and pay respect to the young men who gave their all for freedom."
Pictureline: Thanks, Steve. It is a wonderful project and your black and white photographs look great. If you'd like to contact Steve about prints or notify him of veterans from WWII who could be interviewed, contact riley@pictureline, and he will pass on the information.