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Queens Chronicle

The world seen through a soldier’s lens

Art found in serving

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Posted: Thursday, February 27, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 12:34 pm, Thu Mar 6, 2014.

With so many documentaries and feature films on the subject, being deployed sounds terrifying to many civilians. The fear of death is enough to prevent many from enlisting.

But few consider the good experiences that come with serving.

Soldiers get to visit places few Americans will ever get to see and most of the time, it has nothing to do with combat.

“About 25 percent of being in the Army is the exciting stuff,” former Army Capt. James Eisenberg said. “The majority of the time, nothing is going on so you get to admire the sights, almost like a tourist.”

Eisenberg is a principal at the Urban American property management firm with his father and brother, who are also veterans.

When Hurricane Sandy hit, Eisenberg joined dozens of other veterans in Rockaway to help clean up, locate residents and provide other assistance through a program called Rubicon — an organization of veterans who provide disaster relief services to impacted areas in the New York metro area.

It was through this program that Eisenberg began meeting great artists who happen to be veterans.

To promote the artist lens many soldiers see the world through, Urban American established Reticle.

Named for the crosshairs in a gunsight, the initiative gives veteran artists an opportunity to have their work displayed in buildings owned by Urban American throughout the city.

“We came up with the idea last year,” Eisenberg said. “We had all of these buildings at our disposal and I had seen some other veterans’ work on Facebook and online and realized that there was an entire resource of artwork created by veterans.”

Reticle started last fall in several buildings in Sunnyside. Daniel Gorman, an aspiring photojournalist who served in the Navy and then the U.S. Army National Guard as an infantryman after 9/11, was the first artist to be showcased.

On Monday, Urban American unveiled its second artist, Army Sgt. Meijer — who is working for a non-governmental organization overseas.

“The project has three goals,” Eisenberg said. “The first is to come up with an enhanced living environment for residents, the second is providing an outlet for these veterans as they transition into civilian life and the third is being able to promote general awareness of veterans’ issues.”

Though the artists featured in Rubicle are veterans, the pieces are not war-inspired and the fact that the photos were taken by a soldier goes unnoticed, aside from a small plaque in each lobby giving a brief description of the artist’s time in the armed forces.

Meijer’s pieces — hanging in Flushing at 143-48 41 Ave. and Astoria at 25-74 33 St. — don’t show men in uniform carrying heavy equipment.

Instead, he highlights a bustling town square and a cramped alleyway with beautiful blue doors and roofs in Tunisia and a factory in China that tests inflatable mattresses.

“I have never taken a shot with the intent to display it, to me photography has always been a personal pursuit,” Meijer said. “It’s a strange feeling to take a personal memoir and display it for others, hoping they see what it is that I saw. It’s also quite intimidating as showcasing any creative pursuit might be. But nothing is more rewarding than having someone see something I made and give me that knowing look, that they understand and get it. Those moments mute any other criticism and make the whole gamble worthwhile.”

Meijer has a good eye for color, which was most noticeable when the two pieces were hung on the Astoria apartment walls. Passersby stopped for a moment to take in the photographs.

“I don’t have any ideal subjects or an ideal style,” the artist added. “I just enjoy capturing moments that would otherwise pass without a second thought but are nonetheless telling, whether a look, a glance, a scene, some strange juxtaposition. The ability to capture a moment in time is an amazing trick, and whatever the moment is, I want to grab all of it in the frame.”

Eventually, when Urban American gets more of its buildings filled with artwork, Eisenberg wants to rotate the pieces throughout the city so more people can experience the veterans’ work.

“What’s great about Urban American’s Reticle project is that it helps break down simple narratives about veterans, which are all too common these days,” Meijer said. “James doesn’t want people to look at the pieces as veteran art, but art that happens to come from veterans. I like that someone passing by can get intrigued and find more if they scratch the surface — in some ways that’s exactly the message I try to get across in my shots, that there is always more hidden in plain sight.”

Welcome to the discussion.