Photographer takes on F-35 project

F-35 fighter jet

Residents document the effects of the jets on their daily lives


Community News Service

A new effort to visually document the effects of the Vermont National Guard’s F-35 program on Chittenden County residents is underway.

Winooski photographer Dan Higgins is asking Chittenden County residents to submit pictures of themselves reenacting their experience when the noisy F-35 fighter jets fly overhead.

Higgins has been documenting communities around Vermont through photography since the 1970s. He said his photography projects aren’t just about taking photos, but rather generating a connection between the subject and the viewer.

“I don’t take photos, I make them,” Higgins said. “That’s a big distinction because they’re staged. I do it when I feel there’s a reason and it’s pretty much been a way to try to connect people with the Town of Winooski as it’s evolved.”

For this project, Higgins was inspired by a Chittenden County resident who emailed him a photo depicting all of her coworkers holding their hands over their ears as the F-35s flew overhead. It has expanded to the entirety of Chittenden County after he received messages from people in Williston, South Burlington and Burlington.

“I thought, since so many people are involved in talking about the F-35s and everybody seems to have a cell phone now, why not invite people to use their own cell phones to do the photography project,” said Higgins. “I thought it rather than me trying to go out and make photographs. It’s to let people, with whatever skills they have, with whatever they use for a camera, generate pictures that are evidence of the distress that they have when the F-35s fly over and they have to stop whatever they’re doing.

Higgins believes visuals do a better job at describing a particular issue than words.

“People express themselves verbally all the time … describing how much stress there is, and I thought this would be an opportunity for people to express themselves visually,” he said. “I do think that visual information is far more specific than words. Words tend to be generalities. Historically, photography has had that power.

“Someone might say, ‘Oh this person’s complaining,’ but then they see the actual situation and it might reach people that it wouldn’t, that words wouldn’t reach.”

Anyone interested in participating in the Higgins photo series is asked to send photos to his email, He looks forward to gathering the submissions into an exhibit.

“The first phase of photography is making pictures,” he said. “The second is what do you do with them? What does it generate in terms of interaction with an audience? I’m more interested in what happens when you begin to bring them together.”

Another project documenting the effects of the F-35s is a documentary called “The Quietest Year.”

Until the project is completely finished, however, the producers have declined to comment on the process of the project.

The Community News Service is a partnership between the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program and Vermont community newspapers.