Nick Collier spent one month as the artist in residence at Gettysburg National Military Park. During his time at the park, he used photography and sculpture to capture the significance of the historic site. The events that occurred on the battlefield at Gettysburg resonated with the Marine Corps Veteran, and that came through in his artwork.
Collier served in the Marine Corps as an 0311 Infantryman from 2002 to 2006. One afternoon, while on patrol in Afghanistan, Collier met someone using a “box camera.” The man was using the box camera as a small business. He would make a little money taking people’s photos using the self-created contraption. Collier was intrigued and had his picture taken with the unique camera.
Years later, after separating from the military, Collier decided to build his own box camera. It is made of 3 inch oak and sits atop a surveyor’s tripod. It serves as its own traveling dark room and exposes the image directly onto paper. He calls it a “pinhole Polaroid.” The shutter is the front cap that is removed to expose, and there are two trays inside the box that give the photos the chemical washes they need. Then, he can remove the photo from the back of the box.
He uses the box camera for a number of things, but at national parks, he has used it to take portraits of park employees who are military Veterans.
Collier’s participation as Artist in Residence is part of Gettysburg’s Veterans outreach program. The park has a new artist each month, and they feature at least three Veterans each year.
“We’ve always used art and we’ve always had Veterans use art to tell the story of the battle,” said Chris Gwinn, Gettysburg’s chief of interpretation and education.
Collier has worked in a similar program at Big Bend National Park, Texas.
“The program is unique because I don’t think there are a lot of opportunities specifically like this for Veterans that are artists,” said Collier. “I think its special that national parks would take a step in that direction.”
VA also embraces Veterans expression through art. There are currently 10 artists whose work is on display at VA medical centers across the country.