Pentagon pitchman moonlighted as provocative photographer
By day, Army Col. Steve Warren has helped news reporters for years navigate the military, securing them the data and comments they needed for their stories.
By night, the public affairs specialist moonlighted as a private and occasionally provocative photographer whose work included nude silhouette portraits.
But when he landed his dream job as a top podium spokesman at the Pentagon, the onetime Gulf War veteran feared his day job and his off-duty hobby might collide. After all, the Pentagon has fielded some of its own questions over the years about racy photos taken by military personnel.
So Col. Warren decided to shut down his small online photo boutique in January rather than let it lead to unnecessary questions in his new high-profile job.
“My new position was higher profile than before, and I didn’t want there to be any potential concerns,” he told The Washington Times. “This was really just a hobby more than anything else.
“I took portraits of friends and people I knew, hoping it would become more, but I didn’t really have time to develop it into anything serious. Once I got my new job as a spokesperson for the Pentagon, I decided it was time to shut it down.”
His instincts about potential sensitivities were right. Shortly after he took over the new job, anonymous complaints were sent around to news media outlets, including The Washington Times, questioning the propriety of his photo business and the subject matter of some of his more provocative art, especially given the Pentagon’s own run-ins with military personnel and photos.
For instance, in 2006 the Army investigated women in the Kentucky National Guard for allegedly posing nude with their M16s. In 2009 the Army investigated eight male cadets for allegedly taking photographs of as many as 21 female soldiers at Fort Dix. And last year, a soldier at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point faced charges for taking photos of female cadets without their consent.
Col. Warren told The Times that his own short stint as a professional photographer doesn’t even come close to the kinds of situations the military has been sensitive about. He said his photos were permissible under military rules, and that the pictures he took were “professional” and “tasteful” even when they involved nude subjects.
In fact, provocative art wasn’t even his intention when he got started. Col. Warren said that he began taking sports-related photographs after he returned from the Gulf War in Iraq as a way to help him readjust to a peacetime life back in America.
“I love boxing, and once I realized that I needed to take it easy on actual boxing, I started taking pictures of boxers as a way to still feel involved in the sport. I started taking photographs of families, weddings, anything I could,” he explained.
Word of his work spread to colleagues. For instance, he acknowledged even volunteering once to take family portraits, free of charge, for a supervising assistant deputy secretary inside the Pentagon.
After expanding the scope of his photography beyond family events, however, Col. Warren took a class that taught him how to take slightly more provocative pictures — photos that he described as “very tasteful nude silhouettes.”
“It was nothing sensational,” he said. “It’s an art.”
Nude photography has expanded in pop culture since Annie Leibovitz’s 1991 Vanity Fair cover shot of a pregnant Demi Moore and Irving Penn’s 2010 Vogue shots of stunning British cover model Kate Moss, who also posed on the cover of Playboy for its 60th Anniversary issue earlier this year.
Mr. Warren earlier this year took down his Web site, where some of his more provocative artwork was displayed.
And for now, he insists he’s focusing solely on his job at the Pentagon as Director of Defense Press Operations for Secretary Chuck Hagel.
“I think many people try things like this at different stages of their lives,” he said. “But it turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. I’ve got a full plate with my new job now anyway, so my camera will probably be sitting on the shelf for a while.”