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Putting life in focus

Photography isn’t just a passion for Terrence van Doorn — winner of the inaugural 209 Magazine Cover Photo Contest — it’s a lifeline.

When the Modesto resident first picked up a camera in 2012, he was looking for a hobby. But what he found was so much more. Van Doorn is a combat veteran who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2001 through 2005. When he returned home from Iraq, he entered the law enforcement field but soon found out that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“When I came back…I worked in a law enforcement capacity and for myself I decided with PTSD, I wanted to find another career path,” he said.

Soon after he left law enforcement, van Doorn bought an inexpensive camera at Costco to fill his time while deciding what to do next. 

“Doing photography was therapeutic, it was an outlet for me just to kind of see life in a different perspective and capture the beauty of everything,” he said.

Van Doorn said that when he has a camera in hand, he’s building a connection between the subject and himself — whether it be a beautiful landscape scene or working with a family.

“There is so much going on in our day to day lives that sometimes we may not allow ourselves to single out a given moment and pull our full attention to it. Photography therefore reduces any outside anxiety that may be present, and allows me to live in the moment. To find beauty in the littlest things — such as capturing a flower that just blossomed; stealing a candid moment with kids that you know the family will treasure for years to come; or, seeing the model value your art spreads positivity — it connects you to the world. Then, when post-processing the photos to make it your own, it is like a Zen garden finishing the retouches, bringing out emotion within the colors, and focusing on the details,” he said.

Van Doorn said the ability to focus on the “now” through photography helps him cope with the loss he suffered while in the service and after when he returned home and became close with other veterans who succumbed to suicide. He has recommended photography, and other art forms, to fellow veterans to veer them away from wanting to isolate. 

“You don’t have to be a pro at what you’re doing, you just have to be in the moment and enjoy it,” said van Doorn.

Van Doorn formerly worked with Stanislaus County as a veteran advocate and was named the Veteran of the Year for 2013 by then-Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen. He then went on to work for Wounded Warrior project as a West Coast liaison. During this time, he continued to go back to photography as a way to “connect” with the world and cope with his PTSD symptoms.

Van Doorn finally decided last year to devote his time and efforts to his creative side and is currently enrolled in the Academy of Art University in San Francisco where he is pursuing a Master’s in Fine Arts degree in Advertising.

“I’m still a hobbyist right now, but I’ve been doing some professional work as a collaboration with some people,” he said.

One of his collaborations is with the San Francisco Timberland store. He takes photos and videos of Timberland products and models to assist with social media efforts and product engagement. Van Doorn does a lot of family photo shoots and event photography for Strut Performing Arts dance studio, as well.

He also uses his talent to help others. In December, he held a boutique family Christmas photo shoot and instead of being paid, he required his subjects to show a receipt for a $50 donation to help the victims of the Camp Fire in Butte County.

“We raised over $1,000 in one night in our home. That was a blessing,” he said.

Van Doorn said he was just hoping to share his work when he entered the 209 Magazine Cover Photo Contest and highlight another local veteran — the model in his picture, Melissa Osuna, who also served in Iraq in the U.S. Army.

“I thought there was a great connection there,” he said.

The winning photo was taken at sunset in a parking garage in downtown Modesto. Van Doorn worked with Osuna to get just the right look for the photo.

“I have a bachelor’s degree in Social Science, so I try to take a spin on understanding other people and what they want to see in their photos and I try to bring it out,” he said.

Equipment-wise, van Doorn recently switched from Canon to Sony with the Sony a7III Mirrorless Digital Camera.

“I fell in love with my camera, just the low-level shooting in it and they way I can see the shots and settings before I shoot,” he said.

Van Doorn also enjoys landscape photography, where low-level and long exposures are a must.

While van Doorn is working on furthering his photography skills, he’s also passing along his love of the art to his children, Azaliyah, 15, and Christopher, 11.

“My wife (Stephanie) is creative with making projects and my son and daughter love shooting as well. I passed down my old camera to my daughter because she’s the oldest and my son has her old camera. We’ll go out and shoot, like in Carmel or we’ll go out to Knights Ferry. 

I think they found a gift in 

it as well,” he said.

2019 is shaping up to be a banner year for van Doorn. He not only won the inaugural 209 Magazine Cover Photo Contest, but he will soon be sharing positive stories from the area through the Dean Blechman Show podcast.

“I just try to stay active creatively. It’s been a blessing so far where it’s taken me,” said van Doorn. ■