Campus News

Photo exhibit tells soldiers’ stories, challenges of coming home after war

Photo-illustration of two soldiers and one person in black and white looking at the sky.

Title:2005/2018. Nathan Maybe / Odyssey Project 


Published March 7, 2022

headshot of Vasiliki Neofotistos.
“As an anthropologist, I am a storyteller. I tell stories of others and stories about the stories of others in hopes of helping make sense of the chaos we call life. ”
Vasiliki Neofotistos, associate professor
Department of Anthropology

UB, in collaboration with a team of community partners, will present selected images from “Odyssey: Warriors Come Home,” an exhibition of photographs made by local combat veterans who used photography to explore their return to civilian life and to find meaningful social connections after war.

The powerful images from 42 photographers in the exhibit give visitors an opportunity to see and experience the challenges veterans face when they return from combat and begin the process of reintegrating into society. The exhibition, curated by Odyssey Project founder Brendan Bannon, tells the collective story of coming home from battle.

“Odyssey” will be displayed March 15 to May 31 outdoors on the surrounding grounds and in the interior main floor space of the Central Library at 1 Lafayette Square in downtown Buffalo. The exhibit represents another phase in UB’s project “Developing a Sense of Meaningful Belonging among Veterans.

“These photographs are a profoundly personal testimony to the impact of war on the people who fight it,” says Bannon. “Stories of war and the challenges of coming home are hard to share and harder yet to understand for people who haven’t been through war.

“These images illuminate those stories of complex courage.”

For the past several months, a UB research team has been working on the project with the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Odyssey Project and the Veterans One-stop Center of Western New York. During this time, local veterans have held a series of meetings to facilitate rich discussion and reflection for how they can find and develop a sense of meaningful belonging after their discharge. Six discussion facilitators, all veterans themselves, led that first series of monthly discussions with members of the wider veteran community in Western New York about reintegration, disability, mental health, loss and suffering, reconciliation and public memory.

Those discussion leaders will also open their conversation to the public as part of a free special event at 1 p.m. April 3 at the Central Library. This special event brings veterans and their families together with a wider audience to discuss meaningful belonging, and the importance of having a shared, common experience that creates a feeling of belonging to and being approved by society as a whole. It’s a fundamental human need that allows people to positively manage stress and discover coping strategies, while contributing to their overall social and emotional well-being.

The project’s second series of monthly discussions is scheduled to begin in May. Veterans interested in participating can contact the project team.

“Developing a Meaningful Sense of Belonging among Veterans” is funded through a $100,000 grant UB received last year as part of the National Endowment for the Humanities’ “Dialogues on the Experience of War” program, which supports the humanities as a means for U.S. military veterans and others to think more deeply about the issues raised by war and military service. By combining photographic creativity, literature, art and discussion sessions, the project helps veterans find a new sense of social connection and meaningful belonging after their military service.

At a fundamental level, the project creates a place for sharing stories in a variety of mediums that demonstrate storytelling’s ability to help people find meaning and responses to questions whose answers are not easily forthcoming, according to Vasiliki Neofotistos, associate professor of anthropology, College of Arts and Sciences, and the grant’s principal investigator. 

“As an anthropologist, I am a storyteller. I tell stories of others and stories about the stories of others in hopes of helping make sense of the chaos we call life,” says Neofotistos. “This project is very dear to me because it helps veterans to tell and re-tell their own stories by gaining new insight into their military experiences, and to bond through collective reflection around novels, memoirs, films and art that provide common patterns of deployment and homecoming, while creating a forum for veterans to form networks of support, combat social isolation and bolster their resilience.”

Neofotistos has been working on the project with co-investigators and UB colleagues Lisa Butler, associate professor in the School of Social Work and an expert on the care needs of veterans and their families, and Bonnie Vest, a medical anthropologist and research associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, who has expertise in the health and well-being of veteran and military populations. Butler and Vest also co-direct Joining Forces-UB, a project dedicated to veteran-related education and research at UB.

Additional support for the Odyssey Project comes from Higher Ground, the National Endowment for the Arts, Canon and Canon Professional Services, The John R. Oishei Foundation, M&T Bank and the Buffalo Sabres Foundation. Refreshments during the two series of monthly discussions are provided by UB’s Humanities Institute.