Leisure & Travel
Thi Linh Wernau in Rockport, MA
Bold Career Change from Advertising, to Photography and Film:
"You. Are. Beautiful." and "Darkness and Light"
I. NEVER. GAVE. UP." - Brian, age 32
Thi Linh in her own words...
I believed that I could do it and wasn’t afraid to fail. It sounds simple, but following your heart isn’t always easy. It took me 15 years to follow this dream in the way I had always wanted to.
2. You left your career to pursue your passion for photography. What nugget of advice would you share for someone teetering on making a career change to follow a dream?
I think you have to be willing to take risks and work hard. I always say that I left my high-powered career to pursue my truth and my passion in the art of photography. If something is your truth and your passion, it won’t be difficult to find the motivation to keep driving forward towards that dream. Hard work is also important. I never expect anything to be handed to me. One of the oldest vets in my project is an 86-year-old highly decorated combat vet from the Korean War, Austin Dorr. I think of him as a mix between Yoda and a Jedi Knight. He has a lot of philosophical sayings, and one of my favorites is: “the only time you start on top, is when you dig a hole.”
3. Serving in the military is in your blood. Your father is a Vietnam vet, your brother has served in the Marine Corps for almost over 20 years, and you were in Marine Corps Junior ROTC. What was your family’s first reaction to You. Are. Beautiful. – A Tribute to Warriors?
They were very proud of me and inspired by all the stories I shared about the people I was meeting. I do recall my Dad was initially a little skeptical of whether tough infantrymen, or “grunts” as they are called, would be willing to hold up signs that say “you are beautiful” and write about why they are beautiful. But I guess that’s part of the beauty of the whole project. It’s quite natural for them to do that because they’re just people. They’re human like the rest of us, and actually, they have very big hearts. “Beautiful” might not be a word that people associate with combat veterans, and it’s exactly why I love the combination of the phrase with the people I photograph. It’s important for me to emphasize that this art platform is not about feeling sorry for anyone or pity for the wounded. It’s about empowerment.
"If something is your truth and your passion, it won’t be difficult to find the motivation to keep driving forward towards that dream."
4. On your website, www.thilinh.com , your project mission states: “The number one mission of this project is to spread love and kindness - to oneself and to others - and to inspire others to do the same.” What is your biggest accomplishment to your mission?
I like how this art project helps extract the beauty in someone’s spirit and light within a person. A great example is through the story of one of the Marine combat vets in my project, SSgt Ronnie Jimenez, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ronnie hid his post-traumatic stress for nine years before seeking help, and I was so honored he shared his story with me through this project. I would encourage everyone to listen to a speech he gave at one of my recent exhibitions. Watch it here, starting the video clip at 39min 42 sec to see Ronnie: http://vimeo.com/m/109601112
5. Since starting your project, what is one act of love and kindness that has touched you the most?
It’s hard to name just one because I really have love in my heart for every person I meet in this project. If I had to give one example, I would say that I was touched by my video interview with LCpl Nick Eufrazio, USMC (Ret.) and his family. Nick was an infantryman in Afghanistan and suffered a traumatic brain injury from a grenade attack, which resulted in rebuilding his skull and damage to the frontal lobe of his brain. He has come a long way since his first years of recovery, where he didn’t even speak for two years. I especially liked Nick’s answer to my question, “Why are you beautiful?” Totally unprompted, he answered very confidently, “…look at me…because I’m beautiful. I’m me.” It was a very beautiful demonstration of self-love that made my heart expand, and I know it inspires others, too. You can watch the full tribute video to Nick here: https://vimeo.com/105192600
6. In your book, You. Are. Beautiful., there is an emotional and powerful picture that shows “My barren vessel, you are still beautiful,” written on your abdomen. How does photographing the beauty of humanity help you heal?
When I started this project 2 1/2 years ago, I was photographing all different people, even though I was especially honoring wounded veterans. That was a self-portrait I made early in the project about my first miscarriage. I had chosen to miscarry naturally, and I guess I felt very few people actually talked openly about miscarriage. It wasn’t something I was prepared for, and it would happen to me again a few years later. I’m not one to shy away from topics people don’t talk about or misunderstand, so I wanted to do something that visually expressed my feelings around not being less of a woman for not having children. I think there is something beautiful about just being real and open about your feelings and then taking charge of them. And that’s healing in of itself.
I am happy to announce that after 19 years being together, my husband, Peter, and I are currently expecting our first baby due in early April 2015. We could not be happier for this gift!
"It’s important for me to emphasize that this art platform is not about feeling sorry for anyone or pity for the wounded. It’s about empowerment."
7. You. Are. Beautiful. has raised over $15,000 for charity, including the Semper Fi Fund, America’s Fund, Boston’s Wounded Veteran Run and The Home Base Program. The goal is to raise $50,000 for veterans across all military branches. How can someone support your inspiring project?
People can donate online at: http://fundraising.semperfifund.org/YouAreBeautiful
I am also searching for sponsors to help support my ongoing work to photograph and exhibit this series nationwide. If people are interested in becoming sponsors of this series, please contact me via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
To date, 100% of expenses to photograph, produce and present the artwork have been generously underwritten by Wernau Asset Management.
8. Love and kindness has been spread and showcased in You. Are. Beautiful. art exhibitions, books, movies, and events. I’m curious, what’s next?
I'm excited to announce that I've recently launched my first feature length documentary, "Darkness and Light." It's a raw, candid, and unscripted conversation with eleven wounded veterans and takes people through a journey of the human spirit post-war. People can rent or buy the full movie on Vimeo On Demand at: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/darknessandlight
The film is a compliment to my photography series, but one of the areas it explores through conversation with wounded veterans is post-traumatic stress or PTSD. I think reducing the stigma of PTSD and recognizing the seriousness of the invisible wounds of war is a very important topic. I don't know if people are aware that there is a different kind of battle for veterans when they come home and transition into civilian life. For example, 22 veterans commit suicide every day. By sharing the voices of these veterans, I hope that their stories can influence the life of another vet or inspire others to help fight for this cause.
9. I Admire U, who do you admire?
I admire my Mom. She came to the United States from Vietnam after the war over 41 years ago. She is still the only person from her family here in the United States. I don’t think people realize how strong and courageous my Mom is. She always taught me that a person can achieve anything as long as they put their mind to it.