By Maxime Devillaz
It’s 11:17 a.m. on Thursday, April 7. Ladders, tape, and laser measurement tools huddle walls and floor at the Steinberg Museum of Art. “Everyone’s got a bit of OCD here,” said Carrie-Anne Gonzalez, one of the twelve graduate students preparing the “Nexus for 12” art show that runs from April 11 to May 6.
The dark-haired woman suddenly wanders of to pick up her camera, walks to various colleagues’ sets to blast a few clicks on the shutter, before getting back to her own installment.
A Bronx-native, Gonzalez moved to Central Islip in her teens. By then she was a vocalist who made results in auditions but struggled to ace the necessary exams to break through. Meanwhile her friends hit college, and she asked herself, “What can I do that I can survive on? That can bring food to the table?”
Joining the marines was not an option, her father insisted, and yet, at age 17, she found herself afloat on a Navy base ship. “We were history-recorders,” Gonzales said, explaining her role as a photographer in the public affairs department of the military. Passing the required exams, Gonzalez had to learn everything practical about the new medium. “I had never logged a film before,” she said.
Yet, during her five years of active duty, Gonzalez worked her way up to become a “star photographer,” the ones that were sent out to do the crucial tasks; jobs where you were only given one try. “The admiral coming to visit the ship, or capturing the fight deck operations, or dealing directly with the Captain and XO of the boat,” Gonzalez exemplified.
The days were split into two shifts, 12-15-hour days for some, and the same at nights for others. For Gonzalez, this meant early morning showers, and breakfast with her fellows at the “mess deck.” She then visited the photo lab, where she was a “worker bee,” jotting down what was written on the assignment board.
Gonzalez was the digital technician, in charge of all studio photography, maintenance and equipment for the public affairs office on board. “I was responsible for editing all of the images that came back, sending them of to various places, and making sure everything was catalogued,” she said.
The assignments didn’t only include photography, however, but varied among all respective public affairs workers: some photographed, while others were mixing chemistry; a third group painted or deepcleaned a space, and someone else was waxing the floor. In fact, “all of these things could be done by a single person in a day,” according to Gonzalez.
After two years of active duty, Gonzalez was sent to design school. Graduating with an associates degree in commercial design from Nassau Community College, and a bachelors of technology in visual communications from Farmingdale State University, her Navy experience had opened up a new life path within photography.
Gonzalez remained in the Navy reserves for an additional seven years. In the spring of 2014, she eventually decided to attend graduate school at LIU Post. As an MFA student in Studio Art, with a concentration in photography, Gonzalez aimed to explore her artistic repertoire—trying ceramics, painting, and printmaking—to ultimately see photography through a wider lens.
Although Gonzalez recollects arduous effort on a daily basis in the Navy, she believes the friendships among veterans made the time worthwhile. As a civilian, she also learned that nothing would ever be as meaningful as working on a warship, documenting and truly being responsible for other people’s lives. That’s why she started the project, “Today’s Veteran: Telling the Stories of Veterans,” which can be accessed at https://todaysveteran.squarespace.com/confg#/|/.
“This project is super important to me, because Vets often feel like they are alone…and we definitely are not,” she said.