As a gay man, Vincent Cianni said the movement toward equal rights for gays in the military was near and dear to his heart.
Cianni, a New York-based documentary photographer, wanted to capture the struggles of gay members of the military to fit in. His portraits and interviews of gay current and former military personnel are featured in a book and a new exhibit that opened Friday at Elgin Community College.
"The work was done to give voice to people who had no voice ... whose lives were affected for years and years afterward," Cianni said.
The ECC exhibit, "Collateral Damage: The Human Faces of War," features the work of four award-winning documentary photographers depicting the personal cost of war. It examines post-traumatic stress, service by gays in the military and "don't ask, don't tell," women soldiers, the concept of maleness in wars, and the long-term effects of soldiers' loss on their families.
It is on display through Sept. 24 at the college's Safety-Kleen Gallery One, inside the college's Building H Arts Center at 1700 Spartan Drive.
Gallery curator Ed Krantz said he wanted to highlight the emotional wounds of war.
Cianni's series of photographs on gays in the military "include an incredible diversity" of service members in age, gender, racial background and rank, Krantz said.
The other series in the exhibition include: "Men with War" by Samantha Appleton; "The Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" and "Bedrooms of the Fallen" by Ashley Gilbertson; and the "Never Ending War: Iraq" and "Self-immolation in Afghanistan: A Cry for Help" by Stephanie Sinclair.
Appleton's series "provokes a discourse of male identity within the context of war," Krantz said.
Gilbertson's portraits show how family members preserve the memory of their lost loved ones by keeping their bedrooms exactly the way it was when they left for war.
"Obviously, it has a profound effect on family and friends who are trying to cope with someone who has gone forever," Krantz said.
Krantz said the exhibit paints a more comprehensive picture of the impact of war.
"It's really a serious, significant subject matter," Krantz said. "I hope that people understand the sacrifice that soldiers make and the loss that happens with those people who are not directly involved in the war. They are just innocent bystanders. The collateral damage isn't just shrapnel ... it's social, psychological, as well as physical damage."
As part of the ECC exhibit, Cianni, whose work has been showcased in museums and private collections nationwide, will give a presentation on "Gays in the Military: How America Thanked Me" from 1 to 2 p.m. Sept. 2 in the college's Building G Spartan Auditorium.
Cianni said the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, repealed in 2011, was discrimination against an entire class of people. He started reading up on the history of the ban and said the United States was the only country in NATO that banned homosexuals from serving in the military.
Cianni began contacting people through social media sites and spent three and a half years traveling throughout the country photographing and interviewing 120 people who had served from World War II onward for his book, "Gays in the Military."
His photographs can be seen along with audio and text interviews at the ECC exhibit.
"The interviews are integral to understanding the photographs," Cianni said. "They tell the back story of their experiences. Each and every one are unique and powerful."