Cloquet resident Jessica Tuttle gives back through her artCloquet resident Jessica Tuttle understands what people go through when one of their family members is deployed by the military.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Cloquet resident Jessica Tuttle understands what people go through when one of their family members is deployed by the military.
Tuttle is engaged to Andy Hayes, a mechanic with the Air National Guard in Duluth who has been deployed twice, which was difficult for her, to say the least.
“I was an emotional basket case,” she said with a smile. “It’s a little embarrassing, actually to think about it now. I never think I should complain, because of all the people who do this who have children.”
Although she doesn’t complain, she will say she faced “some challenges” in 2005 while Hayes spent five months at a base 50 miles north of Bagdhad, Iraq. Tuttle felt very alone having recently moved to the area from the Twin Cities suburb of Shakopee, Minn.
“I went from city living to living in rural Twig,” she said. “I couldn’t buy milk without driving for half an hour, so it was a big change for me.”
After a month on her own, Tuttle decided to get a black lab puppy she named Lola, to keep her company.
“At the time, Andy told me he wasn’t ready for a dog, but I needed her,” she said. “And today, she is daddy’s girl.”
The second time Hayes was deployed, in 2007, Tuttle knew a few people, but this time it was the home itself which presented challenges.
“That’s when everything broke,” she said. “Our furnace went out, the snow blower broke after a huge snowstorm and then our corn stove stopped working,” she said. “For the last couple weeks before he came home, I slept in the room with just a space heater.”
She managed to hold it together – until the washing machine broke down.
“I called him and was just yelling even though it was so unfair to him,” she said. “Stuff happens; I just couldn’t believe how many things were happening at once.”
Once Hayes returned from deployment, the couple moved to Cloquet and to a house with a better furnace.
During both deployments, help in the form of support came from the Guard Family Network at the 148th Fighter Wing and specifically, Jennifer Kuhlman, family program coordinator.
“Jennifer is so great and I don’t think that she realizes how much of a help she is to the families of the 148th,” Tuttle said.
Additionally, the Internet provider Clearwire also made Tuttle’s day when she found she could go to their offices – with their dog – and record a short video that was e-mailed to Hayes at no cost.
“It was just a really cool thing for them to do,” she said. “Andy was pretty happy to be able to actually see us and hear us … but the video meant much more to me. I thought it was amazing that a business set aside time and staff to do this for families, and I was so grateful, especially since Lola was able to go.”
That got Tuttle thinking about what she could do to give back – and although she said she didn’t have the resources to donate money, as a photographer she thought she could do something similar.
Currently, with approximately 100 civil engineers with the 148th deployed, Tuttle is getting her chance to give back.
“I’m just happy to do something,” she said. “People think those deployed are heroes, but the families who stay back – especially those with kids – are heroes, too.
“Doing something” for Tuttle has developed into a day of portrait shooting at an April Guard Network event in which families of those deployed start thinking about reintegrating with their deployed family member.
“The engineers are scheduled to return sometime in June,” Tuttle said. “These events make it easier for families to reunite because it can be a shock when they return.”
Each family will receive a 20-minute photo session at the event in Grand Rapids and Tuttle plans to e-mail the photos to those serving overseas. The families will also receive about a dozen images to keep. When their family member returns, she will offer a 50 percent discount on a portrait session for the entire family.
Photographing dozens of family members in a short amount of time will no doubt be chaotic and Tuttle doesn’t plan to go it alone. She plans to have two photographers attend the event with her to keep things moving smoothly and although she has a lot of work ahead with editing and sending potentially hundreds of photos, she is ready to get to work.
“I hope I get to photograph every family involved in this deployment,” she said. “I can’t wait to meet them all and if any of them can’t make the event, I’ll gladly set up another time to photograph them.”
Tuttle shouldn’t have too much trouble creating a rapport with the families. Not only can she relate to the families through her experience with Hayes’ deployment, she grew up in an Air National Guard family. Her father was in the Guard and Tuttle remembers him leaving for training and service in different countries.
“It was never for too long,” she said. “And I never thought it was too big of a deal since my mom never made a big deal out of it. Now I know what a big deal it can be.”
Tuttle actually met Hayes through her parents, who “forced” her to visit the family’s cabin one weekend more than six years ago. Hayes, a Hermantown native, was visiting the cabin as well and the two hit it off immediately.
“My dad likes to say he handpicked him for me,” she said. “And I don’t like to admit it, but my parents were right to try and set us up.”
Tuttle discovered photography in high school, but she and photography did not hit it off quite as quickly.
“I did whatever I could to get out of that class,” she remembers. “I didn’t like the chemicals or any of it.”
After attending college in St. Cloud, Tuttle moved to Hastings, Minn., where she worked with developmentally disabled people. It was out of the blue one day that she decided to take her camera to the St. Croix River and photograph the nature around her.
She was more than a little surprised to find that she liked a lot of the photos when she got them developed.
“The next week I went on e-bay and bought a 35mm film camera,” she said.
Sometime later when Hayes brought home a point-and-shoot digital camera, it changed her world, Tuttle said.
“I fought digital,” she said. “But when I got that camera in my hands, I couldn’t put it down.”
She began learning all she could about photography and tried and tried and tried to land an internship with a photographer.
It took four years – but she finally got one with photographer Erin Johnson in Minneapolis.
“At that point I was so discouraged,” she said, “I think I might have passed out when she actually responded.”
Now, Tuttle has a photography Web site and blog and is traveling to Minneapolis regularly to work with Johnson shooting weddings and portraits.
“She’s an open book, which is nice,” she said. “I am learning so much all the time and it doesn’t feel like work.”
Tuttle is slowly gaining experience – and exposure through this project – and she hopes to have her photography business finding success by next year.
“I feel very fortunate and it’s shown me that things happen for a reason,” she said. “I keep telling myself and others – if you want it bad enough, you will make it work. Hard work can pay off.”