AUSTIN (KXAN) - When Erin Trieb was dodging fire in Afghanistan, the last thing she imagined was seeing her photographs on giant screens during the Austin Symphony Orchestra's Fourth of July Concert and Fireworks Show .
But that's exactly what will happen, starting at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday on the lawn at Austin's Long Center for the Performing Arts .
Three times, Trieb was embedded with U.S. soldiers and Marines in various parts of Afghanistan. She not only shot photographs of the troops in action, she also followed some of them as they returned to their homes, riddled with post traumatic stress disorder, brain trauma and a host of other injuries and emotional difficulties.
Her photographs form the backbone of the " Homecoming Project ," a movement Trieb is organizing to offer care and compassion to the returning veterans.
"This is not a political issue; it's a human issue," she said. "This is about humans, citizens of our country who have served now a decade overseas and it's our responsibility to take care of them and support them when they come home, whether you were in favor of the war or not.
"That's already been done and now we're looking at what's going to happen over the next twenty to twenty-five years as these vets come back and they begin to recognize and start grappling with their experiences there."
Trieb's photos will have company on the two giant film screens at Wednesday night's performance. Roughly 20 other photographers will also be represented there, including Pulitzer Prize winners and photographers from major U.S. newspapers and magazines, all of whom licensed their work to the Homecoming Project for free.
"We try our best at our concert every year," said symphony conductor Peter Bay , "to salute all of the branches of the military in a medley, which lasts about four minutes long. And while I feel that that's a very significant part of our concert, maybe the most important part of the concert, that it wasn't enough."
"These veterans are definitely underappreciated," Bay added.
"And hearing what Erin could do to help us bring more attention to the veterans, I was very compelled, as was our executive director, Anthony Corroa, that we should do something."
Something, yes, but not too much.
"I think we had to tread lightly," Bay said, "because this program is supposed to entertain all ages from the littlest children to the oldest adult.
"But at the same time, I felt it was important to recognize that war is not a happy thing; it's not something to celebrate. It's a very serious matter and people give their lives.
"So I did worry about the content and some of the content was altered to accommodate all ages, I'd say."
Trieb agreed to edit out graphic photos of wounded troops on the battlefield and some of the pictures of soldiers and Marines suffering back in the states.
"My niece is going to be at this performance and she's four years old," said Trieb, "and I don't want her to see the things I've seen overseas. You know, she's too young and I think that's okay.
"And I think we can express soldiers and veterans and military identity without necessarily showing an R-rated version."
The point, for Trieb and Bay, is to draw attention to the needs of returning vets, not to attack the sensibilities of families attending the concert.
"When you force feed people a message," said Trieb, "they're a lot less likely to understand and receive it and accept it.
"You know, to create something that is beautiful and sophisticated and to really honor the people who have served overseas is important and to do it with dignity, I think is also really important."
Still the photos will tell the story of the plight of hurting vets and at the Fourth of July show, representatives of groups who try to help them will be on hand to answer questions, receive donations and sign up volunteers.
That is Trieb's vision: A body of photographic work that inspires and moves Americans not just to say, ‘Thank you for your service,' but to be able to add, ‘Because of your service, I'm working to ease pain for you and your comrades in arms.'
"It's two-fold," she said. "It's awareness and then it's outreach, a call to action. With those elements combined, we really have something that potentially and hopefully will become a powerful way for people to recognize the issue and give back."
But the place to start, the photographer added, is to acknowledge that there is work to be done.
"The best way to honor what they've done, their sacrifice and their loss," she said, "is to illuminate these issues, to start talking about them in a very open way and to bring them to light, so that it becomes a part of a daily conversation."
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