Alumnus Photographs Veterans

SJSU alumnus Tom Sanders, ’15 MFA Photography, is on a 24-city photographic journey. At each stop he takes photos of World War II veterans.

“The goal of this assignment is to create a greater appreciation for all veterans and soldiers,” Sanders said. “The veterans get the opportunity to tell their story and be honored before they pass away, to preserve their stories and images for future generations.”

Sanders got the idea for the veteran photo project after snapping photos of a World War II vet for a senior project at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. During the shoot, the vet told him a spine-chilling story that he says put his life into perspective.

Tom Sanders photo shoot

Tom Sanders, ’15 MFA Photography, creates portraits of elderly vets in their senior-living centers across the United States (photo courtesy of Tom Sanders).

“It made the things I was stressing out about in life seem so small because I was not praying to live to the next day as some of the veterans were during war time,” Sanders said.

One photo leads to another

An example of a portrait (courtesy of Tom Sanders).

An example of a portrait (courtesy of Tom Sanders).

That school project kicked off what has now become a career path for the artist. In 2008, Belmont Village Senior Living discovered his work and commissioned him to photograph elderly vets in their senior-living centers across the United States.

The portraits hang in galleries at each facility, along with a short story or quote. Some of those portraits are included in Sanders’ book, “The Last Good War: The Faces and Voices of WWll.”

Now Belmont Village Senior Living has commissioned Sanders for a second time to travel to their centers and photograph the remaining World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War vets. So far, he’s captured 700 veterans on camera. He estimates his camera will record another 200 faces before the project ends.

Sanders credits, in part, his education at San Jose State University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for his early career success.

“Both schools have given me the tools to help me succeed,” Sanders said.

Tools that put Sanders both on a career path, and a photographic journey to keep the stories of WWII veterans alive for all to remember and enjoy.