Hard Earned: The Military Photographs of Stacy Pearsall & The Veteran’s Portrait Project

October 21, 2023 – January 14, 2024

“I carry a gun, but my real weapon is my camera.”

                                                        – Stacy Pearsall

Retired Air Force Staff Sergeant and aerial combat photojournalist Stacy Pearsall has spent most of her adult life focused on two passions: photography and the military. Pearsall began her career as an Air Force still-photographer at the age of 17.  At age 21 she became one of the few women to ever be accepted into the 1-Combat Camera Squadron, an elite unite of the Air Force that provides photographs of military operations to high-ranking government officials in order to inform decision making and preserve a historical record.

During her years of military service, Pearsall traveled to over 41 countries and served in three combat tours of Iraq.  She is a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal and Air Force Commendation with valor for her combat actions in Iraq.  She is one of only two women to have won the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) Military Photographer of the Year competition, and the only woman to have earned it twice.  In 2013 she was awarded an honorary doctoral degree from The Citadel for her many contributions to the college, to American veterans, and to the U.S. Armed Forces.

Soon after being medically retired from military service, Pearsall found a new way to continue her dual passions through the award-winning Veterans Portrait Project. The project began in 2008 while Pearsall was rehabilitating from combat injuries sustained in Iraq. She found her inspiration in the hours spent in VA waiting rooms, surrounded by fellow veterans, and was compelled to honor and thank them through photography with the Veterans Portrait Project. To date she has documented over 7,500 veterans across all 50 states.

In partnership with Syracuse University, the Upcountry History Museum will present a selection of 45 photographs from Pearsall’s career as a combat photographer, as well as works from her ongoing Veterans Portrait Project. Each series approaches the military from different angles – in her combat series viewers are confronted with scenes from the conflict in the Middle East. These landscapes with lone or few figures speak to an experience fraught with hidden dangers, and hours spent alone in unforgiving territory.  This experience and understanding of combat allow Pearsall to connect to the veterans she now photographs for the national Portrait Project. In both her combat images and veterans’ portraits, Pearsall’s eye for light and emotion creates an honest photograph that provides insight into the military experience.

The Upcountry History Museum will include military objects and archival materials from its permanent collection, as well as loaned objects, within the Hard Earned exhibit experience.


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