Short bio, where are you from, what is your background?

Matthew Troyer is a documentary and fine art photographer that lives and works in Sarasota, Florida. He will receive his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography and Imaging from the Ringling College of Art and Design in May, 2022 and his Masters of Fine Arts at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill in 2024. Troyer spent nine years serving in the United States Marine Corps as a combat photographer where he documented combat operations and training in Afghanistan, the Philippines, and Thailand. He taught photography as the faculty supervisor at the Defense Information School on Fort Meade, Maryland. In 2021 he was awarded the Trustee Scholarship in Photography and Imaging at Ringling College of Art and Design. In 2022 He was awarded the Graduate Merit Fellowship at UNC – Chapel Hill. He now uses his prior military experience, expanded knowledge of fine art photography, and creative conceptual development to create work exploring the military experience, combat trauma, memory, familial relationships, and unseen heroes.

Tell us about your project that is in the exhibition.

The images from the series History Refracted explore my complicated relationship with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a Traumatic Brain Injury, and their effect on my memory of my time spent deployed to the Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Seemingly innocuous, everyday sightings, refract and flash memories of past experiences and the frames I captured while deployed.

What is your process like when your making work?

I know which images I used for each while I was deployed so I could keep the recreations accurate. I would then hold the original image on my phone and compare it to the LCD screen of my camera and make micro adjustments from there. It’s really interesting re-engaging with not only my photographic work but my actual memories. I actually looked out into the world during my normal day-to-day to seek out remembrance of frames I captured.

How does mental health or wellness factor into the creation of your work?

Mental health issues are at fore front of my current research. I have felt called to create works exploring trauma in veterans of wars. This is one part therapeutic for myself, one part as a means to create work that veterans can connect with, and another part as a means to provide non-veterans with a view of these issues to better inform them. How did you begin this project? Initially, as I transitioned from the world of photojournalism and instructing to going back to school to obtain my BFA and develop my conceptual practice, I avoided any topic involving the military. It wasn’t until an assignment that asked us to examine a piece of our past that the concept for my series History Refracted came about. I felt such a deep personal connection that I hadn’t felt in the images I had been making before. This seems obvious that I would feel this but my avoidance left me blind. I realized I had a lot to say about the subject. I had made three images initially and went on to make another three.

Was the process of creating this project helpful for dealing with the emotion or issue you're describing in your images?

I was surprised at how affected I was making these images. Being a combat photographer is unique in that we experience events being physically there while simultaneously being in an almost removed away as we capture events behind the lens. We not only live with these experiences but are re-engaged visually with our images. This project has made me re-examine and dissect these frames from my past in new ways. Not only am I reliving and engaging with my memories but thinking more broadly about the connotation of my work has only helped me to better understand my feelings and the connection to a larger cultural viewing. The more I make work in this realm and speak and write about it the deeper this understanding becomes. Has the pandemic shifted the way you approach your work at all? Thankfully it has not.

Has the stigma around mental health affected your art practice?

One of the key factors driving my desire to make work involving these topics is the cultural knowledge of PTSD in veterans. Entertainment Media has painted its own picture of the experiences of joining the military, experiencing combat, and the lingering effects it has. News media often paints a similar picture. This picture isn’t something I am very pleased with. All too often only the select stereotypes or extreme cases are pushed forward and sensationalized to the extreme and we become stigmatized for it. My work aims to be a type of reclamation over the narrative. I always include myself in these projects as a point of authenticity and using myself as a conduit to broach these topics.

How has stigma affected your life in general?

As these topics have become the forefront of my work I have grown very open in discussing these topics. Having PTSD and TBI affect my memory also leads me to being very honest and open about the issues almost as a disclaimer. Not everyone of course takes this information the same way. I have definitely noticed the most stigma telling someone that I have PTSD. This again I attribute to entertainment media. What they know of PTSD and veterans typically triggers in their mind uncontrolled violence and self-harm.

How do you think Art could help end stigma around mental illness and mental health?

This is extremely important regarding my motivations behind a lot of my work. The cultural awareness of PTSD in large part comes from movies and television only the worst cases are dramatized. With my work I hope to give the public a greater insight into the issues our veterans face on a daily basis reclaiming the narrative.

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