Veterans happy to be captured
For one professional photographer, capturing the faces of 3000 World War II veterans is more than just a job, it’s a service.
Taking time out from a photography conference he was attending in Blenheim at the weekend, Ilan Wittenberg spent four hours photographing more than 40 Marlborough veterans on Friday afternoon.The pictures were to become part of a project of the New Zealand Institute of Photography, to compile the portraits of all the war veterans still living in New Zealand. The finished product would then be presented to the Royal New Zealand Returned Services Association as a gift, as well as to the national archives.
“This is how I can give something back to the community,” Wittenberg said. “We are here for a bigger purpose and if I can do small things like that for people, those memories are priceless,” he said.
Born in Israel, Wittenberg himself had to serve in the military for a few years. “I understand what military is like and how brave those people are and what they have been through a little bit. I feel honoured to be taking part in this project.”
Prior to his visit to Blenheim, Auckland-based Wittenberg phoned each veteran in the area personally to let them know he would be taking the portraits following the Blenheim Anzac Day service at Seymour Square. “It’s very emotional for me, it’s not a quick job. I couldn’t really do a quick job . . . they came and they waited for an hour, or two, sometimes more to have their photo taken.”
The most rewarding part of the day was the gratitude he was shown by the veterans and their family members, he said. “I engaged with them . . . I connect with these people and they shook my hand and stopped and said ‘thank you’.”
Yesterday, Wittenberg was to call on about three veterans who were too ill to get to the Marlborough RSA Club on Friday, he said.
A photographic honour roll will be created tomorrow, in what may be the last Anzac Day for some of the 3000 remaining veterans of World War II.
More than 100 professional photographers will volunteer their services at RSA clubs tomorrow, taking regimental portraits of any man or woman who served overseas during the war.
The photos will be gifted to the Returned and Services Association in time for next year’s Gallipoli centenary, and will also form a travelling exhibition around the country.
Veterans who cannot attend an RSA tomorrow can arrange a follow-up portrait, New Zealand Institute of Professional Photographers executive director Megan Jones says.
“The main aim is to provide a record of these people before we can’t any more. It’s a gift to the New Zealand archives, basically.”
A sitting would take about five minutes, and some veterans might be asked to sit for a more creative portrait with a photographer in subsequent weeks, Jones said.
Documentary-style pictures would also be captured of attendees at tomorrow’s Anzac parades, services, wreath-layings and morning teas at RSAs.
RSA chief executive David Moger said the project would result in a collection of national significance.
“The act of taking the photographs will show our veterans that they are remembered and that the sacrifices they made for the freedom of us all are still honoured.”
In Blenheim Professional photographer Ilan Wittenberg’s aim is to photograph most of the 50 World War II veterans attending the Anzac Day service in Blenheim.
To make this happen, he will set up a small studio inside the Blenheim RSA to make it as easy as possible for veterans to take part after the service.
Wittenberg promises a complimentary print as a gift to every veteran.