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Truth in Stills: The “I Am” Photo Project

I am a sucker for amazing photography. When I look at an image I want to be transported to the moment it was taken. I want to see movement. I want to see emotion. I want to see soul.

Which is why the “I Am” project by military spouse Lea Hartman caught my breath. There, captured in time, was the reality of being a military spouse personal to each of the subjects in the series. I AM strong. I AM a survivor. I AM blessed. I AM determined.

For each photo Lea helps the subjects, all military spouses, choose their word — the one that best describes them, where they are in their military and life journey or what they want to remind themselves of later. The word is then written in black somewhere on the person’s body. The resulting photo is a lasting testimony to a moment, feeling and resolution.

It wasn’t until after talking to Lea about her project (featured in August on the photography blog I Heart Faces) that I really understood that this project, which she has been slowly developing since 2011, isn’t just about the person pictured. It’s about Lea giving the subjects a mantra to hold onto in their darkest hours. And it’s about communicating the depth of the military spouse community to the world.

“One of the people I photographed, Sarah, was 21-years-old when I met her. She had gotten married at 16, had had two babies by the time she was 20-years-old. She was so strong, so encouraging and I thought this is what people need to see – that Army wives aren’t sitting back here wallowing in their misery,” Lea said. “I feel like they’re taken for granted and no one ever sees it.”

Lea said she is very careful about the women she asks to be in these photos.

“Its really personal to me, so I’m really pretty selective about who I photograph and under what circumstances. But everybody that I photograph is somebody that I know in real life,” she said. “I just wait until I come across a woman who it seems like it is something that would bless her. I don’t mean for it to be something showy or something to garner a lot of attention — it’s really when I meet the right woman who fits the bill it all comes together.”

Nikki Brown, featured in the “Determined” photo below (and in the banner above this post), is a longtime friend of Lea’s and has known her across two separate duty stations. She said she wanted to participate because she wanted to tell the world who military wives really are.

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“I just thought it was interesting that she was trying to bring awareness to military wives and what we go through and the experiences that we have,” Nikki said. That was really what her project was about.”

Nikki said she picked “determined” as her word because the quality has been an ongoing theme in her life as she PCSed across the country, went through a major lifestyle change and refocused her energies on homeschooling her young girls and bringing them up in a Christianity-centered home.

“Since I am human I do fail, however, as Paul says in the Bible, I am determined to run the race.”

You can see all of the I Am photos at Lea’s website.

About Amy Bushatz

Amy is the managing editor of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is an Associate Editor. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on NPR and in the New York Times. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.