I use the word "transition" to describe not just my work, but also myself. Photography has always been a part of my life; however, as the years progressed, my life focus moved from task to task. These tasks evolved from furniture finisher, to college student, to high school physics/chemistry teacher, to chemist, to soldier, to photographer. However, it wasn't as though photography was an afterthought. Instead, it was a source of healing, and a creative outlet that I desperately needed after being wounded in Afghanistan.
As a young boy, my father had taught me how to develop photographs. He had built a darkroom in the basement of the house, and I never forgot the feeling of watching an image develop before my eyes. Unfortunately, after I moved out of the house, I was unable to have a darkroom of my own. And so my growth as a photographer had come to a halt.
After high school, I had gone on to study furniture making and furniture finishing. A set of skills that I still enjoy practicing to this day. However, I had always been drawn to the sciences, and the pull of the laboratory was too much to overcome. Therefore, I went back to school and earned a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin.
It was during this time, while working toward my degree, that I met my loving wife, Tara. And a few years later, we were blessed with our son Liam. Both Tara and Liam, as well as their love, would eventually become instrumental in my return from Afghanistan.
After graduating from UT, I became a chemistry/physics teacher. I truly enjoyed these years of my life. The students constantly kept me on my toes, as they pressed me to become a better educator, in order to assist them in achieving their dreams. However, 9-11 forever changed my life as it did so many others. And so I joined the Texas Army National Guard in case they were to need me. This need occurred in 2005, when I was sent to Iraq for my first tour. Then again in 2009, I was sent to Afghanistan, where on a mission late in the deployment, the vehicle in which I was gunning, struck an IED. I don't remember much from those next few days; but I do remember the nurses showing me the picture of my wife and son every time I regained consciousness. The picture was one that my wife had created and which I had kept in my breast pocket throughout my entire military service. This memory is very clear in my head, because the image of my family and returning home to them is the only reason that I survived. Their love brought my body home, and it was their continued love that brought my soul back from the brink as I have progressed in my healing.
Unfortunately, despite my efforts to the contrary, I found that my injuries prevented me from going back to the professions that had held before joining the Army. For the first time, I found myself without a purpose, and that is a terrible place to be. With both head and body injuries, my abilities to either be in a lab or a classroom were out of the question. And to her credit, my wife, who had always supported me in my decisions, encouraged me to revisit what until now had just been a long forgotten hobby.
And so, with the help of the generous people of Heroes Night Out (who introduced me to other veterans going through similar struggles), the Ride On Center For Kids (who provides equine therapy for veterans such as myself), Operation Heal Our Patriots, the Wounded Warrior Project, as well as the many other people and organizations who have helped me, I began the long journey back to humanity. I say this because I had started to withdraw into myself, becoming bitter and angry with the world. But I will never be able to fully thank the people that have supported me in this process. Those organizations, their affiliates, and mostly my family and friends, saved my life. Photography has now become the medium through which I express myself.
Photographing in both digital and film has been a source of joy for me. Relearning how to process film in the darkroom has led me to join The Darkroom Coop in Austin, TX. And from there, the flame of photographic creativity pushed me to educate myself in various facets of the craft. I have found that this will be a lifelong educational pursuit for me; but, it is one that I enjoy, and I find myself looking forward to the next learning opportunity.
- Todd Plybon