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Harlem Photo Project Helps Veterans Transition Back to Civilian Life

By Gustavo Solis | November 18, 2015 9:46am
 For Veteran's Day, Army veteran Ford Sypher had several of his photographs installed in the lobby of a residential building in West Harlem. 
Veteran Turned Photographer
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HARLEM — When Ford Sypher's parents divorced, he found a camera and channeled his energy into photography. When he left the Army after two deployments in Afghanistan and three in Iraq, he found another camera.

"It was a different kind of divorce," said Sypher, a former Army Ranger.

He went back to the Middle East to photograph the places he had seen while serving. The process helped him transition into civilian life and served as an outlet to help deal with some of the lasting effects of war, he said.

Sypher, who now works with an organization that volunteers in disaster zones, continues to take pictures of his travels. 

This month, in time for Veterans Day, his photography went up on display in the lobby of a residential building at 3333 Broadway along with the work of another military veteran turned photographer.

The display, one of a dozen in residential buildings around the city, was installed by Reticle, an organization that uses photography to help veterans, which draws its name from a sighting device used in the armed forces.

The organization has been putting photos taken by veterans on display at locations throughout the city and New Jersey in a bid to help change the way people perceive veterans, founder James Eisenberg said.

“People expect veterans to sort of be these battle-hardened military guys and girls,” he said. “They don’t expect an eye or appreciation and skill and art to come from them so I think it sort of surprises people.”

The installations are all in buildings run by Urban American, a property management company co-founded by Eisenberg, his brother and their father.

The photographs at 3333 Broadway include calming landscapes and wildlife on one wall and soldiers commanding an outpost having a smoke-break on another wall. Sypher took many of the images while working as a freelancer in the Middle East and during a trip to Africa, he said.

For the people who live in the building, the photos make the walk through the lobby a little more enjoyable.

“They stop, they stare, it’s like an attraction,” said property manager Michael Reid. “Everyone comes in, they stand right here in the center and they just stare at them.”

Like Sypher and Eisenberg, Reid is also a veteran.

More than anything, the photos introduce people to veterans in an informal setting.

“There is less than 2 percent of us who have been in this conflict, which has been the longest in US history,” Sypher said. “There’s such a small group of people who serve that there’s this kind of singular perception, I think, from the greater community so maybe this is a way to breach that gap.”