Photographer offers gift to military families

| Monday, March 9, 2009

Joanne Bartone knows firsthand the power of a photograph.

"Both of my brothers served in the Vietnam War, and I can vividly recall how my mother and our family cherished their photos while they were away from us," she said. "I understand the power a photograph has, and that sometimes it may be all someone has to keep their love alive and keep them hopeful for their return."

Bartone, a 52-year-old professional photographer from Beechview, is hoping to lift the spirits of soon-to-be deployed military personnel and their loved ones or the families of those serving in Iraq or Afghanistan by taking their photographs and giving them away as keepsakes.

She'll set up shop from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday in the second-floor foyer at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum on Fifth Avenue in Oakland.

"During my husband's deployment, pictures were really what helped him feel closer to home," said Sarah Watts of Imperial by e-mail, whose husband, Army Reserve Maj. Herb Watts, went to Iraq in June 2007 with the 316th Sustainment Command in Moon. "In the midst of the war zone, seeing a recent picture of his family helped to boost his spirits and keep up with our young children."

A former social worker — Bartone was once director of a drug and alcohol treatment center — she came up with the idea after seeing a television report about the number of soldiers suffering from depression during extended tours.

"I thought, 'How could I reach out to give something to those who are giving so much?'" Bartone said.

An Army report released last year showed that 89 percent of soldiers in Iraq reported low morale while soldiers in Afghanistan said depression rates were increasing. A study by the private Rand Corp. found that nearly 20 percent of military service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression.

Bartone, who was inspired by her father's love for photography and her mother's love for photographs, studied photography at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, graduating in 1996. She started her photography business, Joanne Bartone Photography, that year.

Her father, John Bartone Sr., 84, of Erie served in World War II and returned home about the time that Kodak Brownie cameras were gaining mass appeal. He became the family photographer, she said.

Bartone plans to post the pictures she takes Sunday on, where her subjects can print or e-mail one image for free.

Reservations are recommended, but Bartone will accept walk-ins. She has no idea how many photographs she'll be taking.

"If we can get 4,000 people ... I'm OK with that," Bartone said. A little more 7,000 Pennsylvanians are serving in Reserve and National Guard units in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We're very excited to be part of it," Casey Patterson, chief of staff at Soldiers & Sailors. Bartone's giveaway coincides with the induction of eight men, including five from Southwestern Pennsylvania, into the Joseph A. Dugan Jr. Hall of Valor at Soldiers & Sailors at 2 p.m.

Bartone said she is compiling a team of hair and make-up artists to "lightly" prepare the subjects for their photo sessions.

Additional Information:

Say 'cheese'

What : Free photo session for soon-to-be-deployed military personnel or the families of those serving overseas

When : 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday

Where : Second-floor foyer at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland

For details or to make a reservation : Call Joanne Bartone at 412-418-8075 or e-mail her.

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