A Renaissance Man
It is impossible to label Stuart E. Krentcil in only one way. A photographer, a businessman, a husband, a father, and a former soldier. Stuart's passion for photography started when he was very young and he loves to talk about it.
"I have always had a camera with me for as long as I can remember,” Stuart said. “First, as a child taking pictures, then developing them in my bath tub, and continuing through almost 50 years of image making. My wife and friends say it is my security blanket and that is why I always carry a camera with me. I started with portraits and places. Later, fashion in New York and Boston, model and actor portfolios, documentary, travel photography and fine arts. In 1970 while in Vietnam, I was able to hone my skills as an action documentary photographer."
Western Avenue Studio in Lowell, MA is the venue where Stuart shares memories and stories through the eyes of his camera. Stuart has seen beauty and seen ugliness. With Stuart’s inseparable companion, he registers moments of life, beauty and despair. “This place is like a student dorm,” Stuart said, “People are always coming here to talk to me. Sometimes, my artist friends join me in my studio to drink a glass of wine and talk about art.”
Stuart showed me some of the pictures, which had been taken by him while in Vietnam. There were portrait of soldiers, mostly.
“Why portraiture, Stuart?” I asked.
“There is this special moment between the person whose portrait is being taken and the photographer, which I try to capture. This moment,” Stuart said, “is so important in intimate portraits; it is what makes the picture stand out. It is the inner beauty that I want to capture; also, the process of manipulating the film is a very personal response, which gives the final image an emotional impact,” he added.
Stuart is very passionate about his work as a photographer and skillful with reproducing images. Stuart talks about photography as if he is talking about life, or vice-versa. In photography, and also in social interaction, we try to capture the inner beauty of others. Likewise, the process of reproducing is very personal and delicate.
“Do lighting techniques help to transform your photos into works of art, Stuart?”
“Some of my work is technique driven, but this alone cannot make great photography.” Stuart explained that using techniques can’t make a weak image into a great one. He said you must start with a strongly composed, interesting image, and then use your vision to transform it into an arresting image.
Although Stuart is a resourceful man, no one can be fully prepared for war. I asked Stuart, “What would you like to say to young soldiers, who were/ are serving in the Middle East and are coming home?”
“It is hard, since it takes one day after the other,” Stuart said. According to him, the process of readjusting is slow and it requires little steps.
“This young man I know, who was serving in Afghanistan, was in combat on a Friday, and was sent home on a Sunday. His family is very religious, so for their first meal together they invited the priest. While they were eating, the young man yelled at his mother, ’Pass me the Fucking potato salad.’” Stuart explained that his family couldn’t understand why he was behaving like that. What Stuart told them was that what they have to understand is that this kid was in combat a few days ago. “It’s not easy for him to participate in social interactions such as family meals; his mind is still in war,” Stuart said. “He wants to eat fast and get ready for the combat; he is behaving according to that environment.” Stuart added.
“I know that now, but when I returned from Vietnam I didn’t know and I behaved just like him.”
“You leave the war, but the war comes home with you. Would you think counseling might be helpful?” I asked.
“Yes,” Stuart answered. “We go through a serious of events that cause us PTSD - Post-traumatic stress disorder.” According to Stuart, it’s important for them to talk to someone about it, and it is important to talk to their families too. “I was invited to give a lecture one day,” Stuart said, “where I was talking about this and I realized that I’ve never talked to my family about my own experiences on the Vietnam War.”
“Why is that, Stuart?”
“At first, my children were too little. Then, they grew up and …”
Stuart paused. Then, Stuart continued, “When people ask about the Vietnam War, they don’t really want to know about it. They can’t bear to hear about what happened during that war. Every soldier goes through the same; it doesn’t matter which war he/she served. However, soldiers who served in Vietnam came back without being welcomed back home. The other day I went to the supermarket with my wife, Stuart said, and this guy stood right in front of me and didn’t move.” Stuart was wearing his Vietnam hat, so he wasn’t sure how the stranger would react towards him. The stranger asked Stuart if he had gone to Vietnam. Stuart said yes. Stuart wouldn’t be able to predict what was about to happen. The stranger hugged Stuart, and then, he said, “Welcome home.”
“We all cried,” said Stuart. “I found out later,” said Stuart, “he had just come back from Afghanistan.”
“With tearful eyes,” Stuart said, “It has been so long ago, but it is still so present and overwhelming. What everybody should say to a soldier is welcome home.”
“Stuart,” I said, “welcome home!”