Traci Dietz, a Northern Michigan University student-veteran from Negaunee, won second place in the photography category of the National Veterans Creative Arts Competition. The senior photography major entered a local competition through the Iron Mountain VA Medical Center. Her first-place finish qualified her for the national judging process. Dietz’s winning submission is an image titled “broken.”
“It is a black-and-white photo of a dock that is falling apart that is shot through a broken mirror,” she said. “Veterans come back broken from the military. I wanted to depict that through an image and also that, even through all of the cracks, veterans are still standing. I am very happy to have placed second among all of the work that made it in to the national competition.”
Dietz was born in Marquette and grew up in Negaunee, where she joined the U.S. Navy her senior year of high school. She served as a master-at-arms with the Navy Ceremonial Guard in Washington, D.C., spending much of her time working in the Pentagon. Since enrolling at NMU, Dietz has held a work-study position in NMU’s Veteran Services Office. She is scheduled to complete her bachelor’s degree in art and design, with a concentration in photography, in May 2019.
“I was always artistic growing up and photography came naturally to me,” she said. “What really spurred me on to go to college and learn about photography was when a company lost my daughter’s first school picture. I was devastated and decided to learn how to do professional photography. I now get to enjoy doing my children's school pictures every year, along with many others in the community. My daughter has been my model for a lot of my photography as I try out new things each time, and now she has taken up an interest in photography and has been entering competitions as well. It has created a bond between us that we can enjoy together.”
Professor Christine Lenzen had challenged Dietz and other students in a seminar class last semester to “get out of our comfort zone and enter a competition.” Dietz saw a flyer for the creative arts competition in the elevator while at the Iron Mountain VA for an appointment, but didn’t think much of it. Jordan Fox, a peer counselor from the Marquette VA, mentioned it during a visit to the campus office, then helped Dietz complete the paperwork and submit her piece.
VA medical facilities use the creative arts as one form of rehabilitative treatment to help veterans recover from and cope with physical and emotional disabilities. Veterans enrolled at VA health care facilities are invited to enter a local creative arts competition, with winners advancing to the national level. There were 51 categories in the visual arts division this year, along with categories in creative writing, dance, drama and music. The activities will culminate in the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival (NVCAF) Oct. 29-Nov. 4 in Des Moines, Iowa.