SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - There’s a noticeable tremble in the voice of Christopher O’ Shana as he recounts his experiences dealing with veterans afflicted with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
For the last three years O’ Shana, a waiver analyst for the Phoenix Recruiting Battalion, has been documenting the struggles of those traumatized by PTSD, in a photographic project titled ‘The Invisible Scar.’
He recounted the story behind his project at a Community Action Committee meeting, held by the Phoenix Recruiting Battalion, April 12, Scottsdale Marriott Old Town Scottsdale.
O’ Shana said he developed a passion for photography upon leaving the Navy and pursued it through a variety of courses, leading to being awarded a grant and working space at a studio called The Monorchid in Phoenix.
“I was looking for something unique to use as a subject when a lightbulb went off in my head,” O’ Shana said. “What about PTSD? Very few know what PTSD looks like. That’s when I developed the ‘Invisible Scar’ concept.”
O’ Shana said he was overwhelmed initially, having to find veterans for his project and learning to how use a studio correctly, in order to enhance his photos for public release.
“It was a daunting task. I was going to school and married with five kids,” O’ Shana continued. “But I began the project and its one that continues today.”
O’ Shana admits he entered the project with some trepidation, not knowing what to expect from the veterans diagnosed with PTSD.
“The first person I had come in was someone who answered an ad of mine,” he continued. “We started talking and I noticed he was fidgeting. I asked him if he was alright and he said he wasn’t. He said he felt like there was someone with a fixed bayonet trying to kill him.”
“I asked him if I needed to call someone, but he said he’d be fine in a few minutes,” O’ Shana explained. “I was scared for a while after that, but the more people I worked with, the less I felt that way.”
Having the opportunity to undertake the project and help veterans became a blessing, with 20 having become involved in the series of photographs so far, O’ Shana said.
“I don’t push them to come in. I interact with them on social media and we take it from there,” he said. “Knowing now what PTSD looks like … I’ll never stop this project.”
O’ Shana said family members of his who served in Vietnam also had PTSD, making it personal for him, adding he will never discriminate who he elects to use as a subject.
“White, black, female, male or religious preference … none of it matters to me,” he said. “The project encourages people to look beyond the facade and into the private lives of some of our nation’s veterans.
As a veteran I’ve been able to bridge that gap by bringing them into the studio, where it’s just them and myself.”
O’ Shana said the 20 veterans he has worked with, most have dealt with serious issues that continue to plague them, making his project critical for them to relieve some of their fear and anger.
“One of the veterans is my nephew, who’d contemplated suicide. Before he sat down to work with me, five of his fellow Marines had previously committed suicide,” he said. “A year after I photographed him he came up to me and said ‘thank you.’ I asked him ‘for what’? He said if I hadn’t taken those photos of him he would not have gone out and gotten help.”
O’ Shana has self-financed a book on ‘The Invisible Scar’ and held galleries showcasing his work, a topic he is determined to bring into public awareness.
“I have a new show coming up with my 10 latest photographs in June,” O’ Shana said. “I don’t charge anything and I don’t get paid. For this show however an anonymous donor paid for the whole thing.”
For O’ Shana this type of generosity makes the whole endeavor worthwhile.
People are becoming aware.