Through their eyes, we see the world.
A young Korean boy holds a bigger-than-boy-sized bundle of sticks on his back. A group of men hold Japanese flags, one that ended up in Sumter. A wounded soldier, body slack, is carried on a stretcher by …
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A young Korean boy holds a bigger-than-boy-sized bundle of sticks on his back. A group of men hold Japanese flags, one that ended up in Sumter. A wounded soldier, body slack, is carried on a stretcher by fellow Americans to a fate unknown to the viewer of the photograph, the image in the frame capturing both an entire story and a snapshot in time.
The collection of images hanging in Patriot Hall for which an opening reception was held on Tuesday features select shots from prominent Sumter photographers and staff photographers at The Sumter Item who deployed as wartime photographers in World War II and the Korean War. Sumter's Eyes, an exhibition sponsored by The Sumter Item and curated by Item archivist and Sumter historian Sammy Way, is on display free to the public through June 28.
Way hosted a talk at the reception to explain who the featured photographers were, what kind of work they did and where and what makes them stand out in their work.
It wasn't just a talk. It, as is each black-and-white photo on the wall, was a series of stories.
The audience moved through the room in enthralled engagement as Way described how one photo was captured, the circumstance behind another.
"He saw a man get out of a jeep with two pearl-handled revolvers on his side," Way said, pointing to a portrait with feigned foreshadowing as if those in attendance didn't know to whom he was referring. "The man asked Johnny what he was doing there, and Johnny said, 'Sir, I'm here to take photos of the military leaders.' So, Gen. George S. Patton said, 'Oh, OK. That's me.'"
Johnny Johnson, a Sumter resident who enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Shaw Field in 1942, also took portraits of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. He captured Britain's Winston Churchill lighting a cigar and took photos of Sumter men in the original 9th Air Force preparing for, then fighting at, Normandy.
Heyward Crowson is the only Sumter Item staff photographer of the four featured in the current exhibit, though Way and Patriot Hall Executive Director Melanie Colclough said they want to continue the exhibit after this round with feedback from observers and replace the collections with others from the more than a million Way has in his cataloged collection at The Sumter Item.
The Marine Corps helmet Crowson wore as he documented Iwo Jima sits on display in front of his photos.
The other photographers featured are Joseph Sweetman, who Way said had a knack for seeing how people in war were in desperate situations. As a Navy combat photographer, he was charged with documenting every island landing led by Gen. Douglas McArthur in the South Pacific and was nationally recognized for his Pearl Harbor images, and Charles R. "Pap" Propst, a YMCA swimming champion from Sumter who trained his eye on children affected by the Korean War.
"Photographers are artisans, and you are an artisan if you take photos," Way said. "You are looking at something, and you want to keep that image. You're looking at specific episodes, especially these war photographers, of war that all dealt with death in the sadness and destruction and misery, but something in them also made them think of home."
Way said he is interested in the thoughts behind each photo. What makes the photographer notice that image? What catches their eye? What's their connection to each scene, and what are they thinking about when they snap the shot?
"They bring these memories to us," Way said, "and I've been very fortunate to have been able to talk to them."
Want to see the exhibit?
What: Sumter's Eyes exhibit showcasing local wartime photographers
When: Through June 28
Where: Patriot Hall, 135 Haynsworth St.
Viewing hours: Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
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