Capt. Laura Hatcher, USN (Ret), doesn’t have many photos of herself from her 26 years of commissioned service. As she says, it’s not like she was taking selfies in the sensitive compartmented information facility during her time as an intelligence officer.
It was when her kids got older and started asking questions about her service that she realized she didn’t have a lot of photos to show them. This is what drives her post-military photography career, especially when her subjects are other servicemembers.
“You don’t think it matters right now, but it will,” she said from her photo studio in Alexandria, Va.
Hatcher’s photography can currently be seen as part of “50 Years Beyond,” which runs through 2023 at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond.
Her black-and-white portraits are part of the multimedia exhibit documenting 50 Virginia veterans and their stories in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.
During the sessions, Hatcher was heartbroken to hear some of the veterans recount the hostile reception they received upon returning home.
“I can’t imagine someone spitting on me because of my uniform,” she said. “To be able to make up for that behavior through the project, I just felt privileged and honored.”
Sharing the stories of veterans through photography has always been a passion of Hatcher’s, but transitioning from military service wasn’t easy.
“When I got out of the military, I felt very lost,” she said. She felt unsure of her place and unsettled. “You become the uniform. You become the service.”
Ultimately, she credits the lessons learned from the Navy — from strategic planning to troubleshooting — as the best preparation for her career.
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Of course, it doesn’t hurt that with a stepfather who is also a veteran, these lessons were hammered home early in her life.
“I’ve been in the chief’s locker since I was 9,” she said.
The most important lesson her service taught her was leadership, and she said it almost gives her an unfair advantage.
“Your service, regardless of how long you were in, is a blueprint of entrepreneurship,” she said. “We are taught from day one leadership, no matter what your rank.”
She is also committed to giving back to others, something she does through mentoring and teaching other photographers. She feels it’s especially important to inspire others as a working mom and a woman of color.
“It’s important to pay it forward and show other women,” she said, “because representation matters.”