Air Force veteran shares photo expertise
November 28, 2011
- Picatinny Arsenal photography classes support the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program.
- Instructor Joel Aronson is a retired college professor of photography and military veteran.
Picatinny Arsenal community members now have the opportunity to learn or brush up on their photography skills with free classes offered here on Thursday nights.
Class instructor Joel Aronson is a retired college professor of photography, military veteran and member of two Morris County advisory councils.
He currently works on special photography projects in and out of his home studio in Wharton. Aronson also teaches a variety of photography classes throughout the Morris County area.
The photography classes support Picatinny's goals for the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program, explained Clarence Lacy, the relocation readiness program manager.
"Comprehensive Soldier Fitness is a structured, long-term assessment and development program to build the resilience and enhance the performance of every Soldier, family member and DA (Department of Army) civilian," Lacy added.
The CSF Program consists of five dimensions: physical, emotional, social, family, and spiritual.
"The Army wants their military members, families and civilians to be strong in mind, body and spirit," Lacy said.
"Photography is a form of expressive therapy and it fits under the social dimension," Lacy noted. "It's a way of developing and maintaining trusted, valued relationships and friendships that are personally fulfilling and foster good communication including a comfortable exchange of ideas, views, and experiences."
For Arsonson, photography goes beyond the process of capturing images.
"Photography is a real powerful tool of persuasive communication if it's used the right way," Aronson explained.
He wants students to "realize that with a camera and photographic skills they can say anything they want to advance their ideas. And that's important.
"You can bring attention to things. It's a form of educating people and you can inform the public. The final result is that you're contributing your visual opinions to history. Whether it's your family history, local history, government history, anything."
While Aronson enjoys all forms of photography, his favorite is taking portraits.
"I love photographing people," he said. "The thing about photographing people is that you get wonderful visual moment images and keepsakes. With the right direction, subjects come to life and they start seeing new and nice things about themselves. The whole event is a very positive affair. The photographer and the subjects enjoy themselves."
Aronson joined the Air Force when he was 18 years old. Even though he was a photographer for his high school newspaper, he didn't meet the aptitude requirements for photography. Instead, he became a Chinese linguist.
He attended Air Force Chinese language training at Yale University and served two tours of duty in Taiwan with special Air Force intelligence units.
Though Aronson was a linguist, he still pursued his love of photography by frequently photographing the local Taiwanese area.
"I was shooting for the 'Air Force Spokesman' because they knew I was interested in photography," he remembers. "I was always out shooting pictures and the command heard about this. They called me in and asked me to photograph various events like visiting generals."
He even photographed then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, when they visited there in 1961. After leaving the Air Force, Aronson sent some photographs to the Johnsons in Washington, D.C. He later received a personally signed "Thank You" note from Mrs. Johnson.
"I'm so thankful for my military service, so being here is paying back for all that time," he said of the Picatinny class that he teaches.
A few years after his military service, he attained a humanities degree at Thomas A. Edison College and has since taught photography. He was a full professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and also shot commercial and editorial photography in and out of his home studio.
A few years ago he volunteered to teach photography at Hope House, a Catholic Charities Agency in the Diocese of Paterson.
"I started teaching at Hope House in Dover because someone in my family had AIDS and passed away," Aronson said. "That person was also involved in photography. As I started doing photo workshops as a volunteer, I thought of Hope House and ended up teaching photography to the AIDS patients."
After hearing of Aronson's volunteer work, Lacy thought that his use of expressive therapy would be a good fit for Picatinny's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program.
Aronson said he intends to continue teaching at Picatinny as long as people are still interested in attending the classes.
The response from the Picatinny community has been very positive, Lacy said.
"The class began with 12 members back in June and has grown to 25 members," said Lacy.
All levels of photography are addressed in the class, from using new camera settings to special technical discussions on digital photo editing with various programs.
The class also has hands-on activities. Students visited Picatinny Lake for landscape shooting sessions, and Aronson set up an outdoor studio session so students could photograph colleagues in natural lighting situations.
He is also planning a field trip to his old stomping grounds, the Fashion Institute of Technology, to get a 'behind the scenes' perspective of professional studios and dark rooms.
Carolyn Moran, a civil engineering technician with Chugach Industries, has been interested in photography for many years. She started attending the photography classes at Picatinny over the summer.
"I've taken lots of classes at my camera club after becoming more serious about photography and am now the official photographer for some horse events and training clinics," she said.
"I rarely go anywhere without a camera these days, so that says it all."
Even though Moran has been a practicing photographer for some time, she still enjoys the opportunity to learn more and improve her skills.
"I met Joel a few years ago at an event sponsored by a local camera club, but I had no idea how much fun this Picatinny class would be for all who attend.
"Joel is a great teacher with a tremendous amount of information, enthusiasm and experience to share. He shows us a great deal more than just the technical aspects of photography.
"The classes have all been great and interesting for many reasons, but mainly because Joel varies the formats so much to accommodate our different interests," Moran continued. "Some (participants) like landscapes. Some like family shots or just good vacation pictures. I do mostly horses and dogs and force myself to shoot those other categories to perfect techniques.
"I encourage anyone interested in photography to try it--you might like it. Visit, introduce yourself and learn from a master," Moran said.
The course is free, and is available to active duty military members and their families, veterans, and Picatinny civilians and contractors.
The course is offered Thursday nights from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Picatinny Community Readiness and Support Center, Building 119.
Picatinny community members interested in participating in the photography classes can contact Clarence Lacy at (973) 724-5219 for information or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Soldiers and Civilians can also visit the Comprehensive Fitness website to take the Global Assessment Tool (GAT).
The GAT is a web-based survey instrument used to assess the dimensions of emotional, social, spiritual, and family fitness.
The GAT is comprised of 105 questions and takes approximately 15 minutes to complete. Access the survey at http://csf.army.mil/.