Pen­tagon pitch­man moon­lighted as provoca­tive pho­tog­ra­pher

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY

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.”

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