Picture Perfect

A vet's war wounds lead to a fresh perspective

Retired Army Col. Gregory Gadson began developing his aim as a teenager. But the career soldier wasn’t pointing a gun. He was shooting pictures.

“I bought my first camera when I graduated high school — with all the gift money I got,” Gadson said as he spun the lens on a Fujifilm X-T1. “That was sort of my path to explore the world.”

Carrying a camera, he said, gives him access.

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“People think I know what I’m doing, so they think ‘he’s busy’ or ‘he’s working’ and they stay away. It sort of isolates me,” he said.

Gadson rarely leaves home without a camera. There was one tucked inside the Humvee he was riding the night he and his security team were attacked by a roadside bomb. One member of the cordon had taken pictures of a meeting they had with Sunni leaders just a few hours before the explosion.

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That attack left Gadson a double amputee.

“I don’t know if I really thought of not having legs as an impediment to shooting,” he said, noting that his perspective is about 18 inches lower now.

He said he prefers sitting in his chair or on the ground because he is more stable there than on his prosthetic legs.

The idea that he might not be able to hold a camera again was nearly more than he could take. Those were the dark days of his healing.

As Gadson began to adjust to life without lower limbs, he discovered that his arm — where he’d landed on the pavement after the explosion — was severely damaged. It took four surgeries to repair the damage to his ulnar nerve.

“That was the straw that almost broke the camel’s back,” he said.

The idea that he might not be able to hold a camera again was nearly more than he could take. Those were the dark days of his healing.

Eventually he bought a light “point-and-shoot” camera and began taking pictures again, first of his many hospital visitors and later of his children, who were active in sports.

“It helped bring me back into life,” he said.

Now there is not much of life that his lens doesn’t catch. He’s always taking pictures. Landscapes, architecture, and candid shots of people he meets on the street are part of his growing collection.

A few weeks back, the colonel attended the wedding of the man he credits most with saving his life.

Eric Brown got married near Spokane, Washington. Gadson traveled there for the ceremony, always grateful for the medic’s quick actions on the night of May 7, 2007. As Gadson watched the former private first class slip a ring on his bride’s finger, Gadson said he was inspired. Realizing his seated height wouldn’t block anyone’s view, he began snapping away.

“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for his expertise, his poise,” Gadson noted.

And now Brown will have photos of his wedding from angles others might not have seen.

Gadson’s work has been featured in a few exhibits — one at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, Virginia. He’s currently featured in the New York Foundation for the Arts’ “Coming Home” multimedia project in Manhattan.

Gadson’s photo collection includes kayakers, people on bicycles, and a few that may have required sacrificing some personal space. You can’t help but think, “How did he get that?”

“In a lot of ways, photography has transformed and given me a purpose, which I needed to drive my life or drive my recovery because I don’t know that I really think about it. I hope I haven’t been too reckless in trying to get a shot.”

“My mind and body work in concert … It’s sort of second nature now,” he said.

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