Author, photographer and journalist Eric Douglas has been traveling the world for years in search of stories. And whether he is creating a photo-essay on political and social change in Russia; or publishing a children’s book about sea turtles, he likes to bring readers and listeners along for the ride.
In 2011 Eric completed a project on Harvesting Divers; a project that took him to Brazil, Honduras and Mexico and earned him a Certificate in Documentary Arts from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. The project was also featured on NBC’s Rock Center this past January. More recently, Eric’s ongoing quest for stories has brought him back to his home state of West Virginia where he has launched a Kickstarter campaign for a collection of oral histories in partnership with the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress.
We caught up with Eric to learn more about this new endeavor called Voices of War.
The Recollective: What inspired your interest in recording stories from veterans?
Eric: I’m not a veteran, but I’ve always been impressed by the dedication, sense of service and sense of brotherhood. I wanted to explore those feelings and memories. When I learned of the Library of Congress’ initiative to record these oral histories for their archives, I thought it would be a great way to preserve those memories and explore the things I wanted to preserve at the same time.
The Recollective: How are you recording them? What media are you using?
Eric: I’m using a Zoom digital recorder with a lavalier microphone. I’m also photographing each of my subjects. I send the interviews to the Library of Congress raw and unedited. For my own project, I’m using Adobe Premiere to edit them. I’ll be laying stock footage and still images of the veterans into the final product.
The Recollective: Are you looking for anything specific?
Eric: I don’t know that I’m looking for anything specific. I’m less interested in combat stories than I am in stories about their lives, how fighting a war fit into it and how it changed them once they came home.
The Recollective: Have you been surprised by anything you’ve heard from the veterans you’ve interviewed?
Eric: The most surprising thing, although I guess it probably shouldn’t be, is how close to the surface the emotions of war still are for many of these me, even the World War II veterans now in their late 80s and early 90s. When they talk about friends lost and those sorts of experiences, they still tear up.
The Recollective: For that matter, are these actually interviews or are you just setting up the recorder and letting the veterans lead the way?
Eric: They are interviews, but I am keeping them fairly loosely structured. When the older veterans want to wander off in their memories, I try to bring them back to the topic at hand. I have some basic topics I want to cover, but it is pretty free-form.
The Recollective: What will happen with these stories after you record them?
Eric: I’ll make four copies of each interview. The veterans will each get a copy for their families. A copy will go to the Library of Congress. A third will go to a West Virginia archive at Glenville State College. I will keep the fourth copy to edit into a larger project of my own.
The Recollective: Can you talk a little bit about the process of getting the stories archived at the Library of Congress? How did that come about?
Eric:The Veterans History Project was created by congress in 2000. It is part of the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress. They have set up the criteria for people to record these veteran oral histories and to submit them. So, I am just piggy-backing my project onto something already established by the Library of Congress.
The Recollective: Are you working with any organizations to find stories or to help support the project?
Eric: To this point, I’ve been working with local Veterans of Foreign Wars posts to find veterans interested in telling their stories. I’m in contact with local veterans affairs offices as well. Beyond that, it is mostly word of mouth. So far, this project is self-supported. I’m looking for some donations and will approach the veterans organizations as well, but it is something I feel that needs to be done.
The Recollective: Is there a timeline for this project or will it be an ongoing endeavor?
Eric: My goal is to have a finished project by November 11, 2012—Veterans Day. I’d like to be able to release the project by then. I’m working on conducting interviews over the next three months and then editing and promotion after that. That said, I can see this being an ongoing project as well. I’d like to teach some classes in interview techniques and recording to get others to record these histories.
The Recollective: You are focusing on veterans in West Virginia. Is that because of logistics or are there also some historical or cultural reasons for recording in the Mountain State?
Eric: I’m a native of West Virginia. I’ve always been bothered by the outside perception of West Virginians. Often, when you tell someone you are from here, it conjures up a mental image of rednecks up a “holler” somewhere. While that certainly exists here, there is a lot more to the state than just the stereotypes. I want to focus on the men and women of West Virginia for that reason. Additionally, the mountain state has sent more of her sons and daughters off to fight for their country than any other state, per capita. There are more than 200,000 veterans still living in West Virginia out of a population of about 1.8 million.
To learn more about Voices of War or to support the project go to http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1022538287/voices-of-war