By Daniel J Vaccaro
When his unit began to take fire, U.S. Marine Carl Glenn Payne knew he needed to start shooting. So, he reached for his camera.
This was April 4, 2010, and the admittedly green combat photographer was in the midst of his first firefight since being deployed to Afghanistan.
“It was kind of stressful the first couple shots we took,” says Payne, whose soft voice and unflappable demeanor belie the danger of the situation. “I started photographing immediately. Eventually, I had to pick up my rifle and shoot back a little bit.”
No one in his unit got hurt that day. And Payne accomplished what he’d set out to do – document the experience of Marines in combat so that others might have a window into that world.
All told, Payne spent five years taking photos for the Marines and continues to pursue his passion for photography today as a student at MSU Denver. He studies social documentary photojournalism, an interdisciplinary degree he designed himself through the University’s Individualized Degree Program.
In honor of Veterans Day, Payne agreed to share five of his photographs with the Insider – three from his time in Afghanistan and two since his return.
Payne says improvised explosive devices were a constant threat during his time embedded with the 1st Battalion 2nd Marines Infantry Battalion in Afghanistan.
In this photo, he snapped a corpsman walking away from a vehicle flipped by an IED explosion.
He would later be injured in a similar incident. While in transit to a base where Marines had been taking significant losses, his vehicle ran over an IED. He wound up with shrapnel in his arm and was out of action for a month.
As the son of a Marine, Payne knew he wanted to enlist after high school. His father forbade him from joining the infantry, so he chose photography instead. But he still wanted to be in combat zones.
This shot was taken during a firefight, when marines were trying to locate the direction of sniper fire from the top of a ridge.
During combat, Payne’s goal was to try and “make photos of specific moments.” He did so here, photographing an Afghani man being treated by U.S. medical teams after being attacked by Taliban forces.
With his service complete in 2013, Payne wanted to continue documenting military life. He joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a support organization for vets, and quickly became a fixture in the Colorado community.
This photo was taken at a funeral at Fort Logan National Cemetery, where the last Pearl Harbor survivor in Colorado was laid to rest. Years earlier, the veteran was aboard an honor flight to visit the WWII memorial in Washington, D.C., when he met a police officer. The two had such a strong connection that the veteran painted a portrait of the officer. The officer carried the prized portrait in the funeral procession.
Payne says he documents funerals so that “people don’t forget.”
Here he captures an American flag being affixed to a headstone.
“I want to make sure there is awareness about veterans,” he says. “I want to keep their memory and stories alive.”
As for his own story, Payne is already working on the next chapter. He gushes about his classes at MSU Denver and is further refining his photography skills working for the University’s Marketing and Communications Department.
Payne expects to graduate in May 2018 and will be the first person in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree.
After that, he plans to put the storytelling skills he gained in the military and at college to good use as a professional photojournalist, preferably in areas of conflict or combat.
“That type of work comes with a lot of stress,” he says. “But with the camera in front of me, I can kind of shield myself, and still tell the important stories.”
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