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Student Helms Air and Space Museum Instagram Takeover

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Military helicopter flying over city
Photo from American University student Bill Putnam's photo essay "Helmand by Air" which he will share on Instagram as part of a takeover of the Air and Space Museum Magazine's account.

Bill Putnam discovered the passion that has become a career in an unexpected place. In 1995, he enlisted as a Patriot Missile Launcher crewman. And he developed a love for photography. Three years later, he left active duty and enlisted in the Washington State National Guard to be a public affairs photojournalist. Now a senior in broadcast journalism at American University School of Communication, Putnam is taking over the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum Magazine Instagram feed Dec. 12-16.

In 1999, he was deployed to Kosovo. “That is where I really picked up the craft of journalism and photojournalism,” Putnam said, “ Over that trip, slogging around southeast Kosovo, I started to see I had the beginnings of an eye.”

His job in the Army solely revolved around journalism and photojournalism. Putnam intended to be a writer “something like Hemingway or Steinbeck,” he said, “and only use photography as visual notes.” 

His bosses encouraged Putnam to develop his passion by sending him out on assignments and critiquing his work. By the time he got back to Seattle from Kosovo in July of 2000, he had a clear idea of what he wanted to do with his career. “I had found something I really enjoyed doing and I've been doing it ever since,” he said.  

Putnam has traveled a lot. He’s been to Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. Upon his return from one of his deployment trips, he was admitted to American University on the Post-9/11 GI Bill to pursue a BA in journalism. He first enrolled as a part time student and then left to go back to his old job at the Joint Combat Camera Center. “I wasn’t even sure I was coming back after I took that job,” he said. But, a few months later he decided he had to finish school, so he came back and enrolled as a full time student. Putnam is expected to graduate in May of 2017.  

One of his many great accomplishments is when he worked as a public affairs officer/photographer documenting the transition from NATO-led training to Afghan-led training at several sites around the province in Kabul. 

His experience in the army and freelance work for various newspapers, magazines, wire services and photo agencies opened doors for him.

Margot Susca, program director and professorial lecturer at SOC, admires Putnam’s work ethic and professionalism. “I was consistently amazed with his ability to take projects further than ‘just’ what was required,” she said “his photography is exemplary, and I couldn't be happier that he has this opportunity to showcase it at such a special Washington, D.C. institution.”  

A friend that works at the museum ran one of Putnam’s photos from Helmand of a US Marine Osprey landing on Air & Space website and then asked if he wanted to do an Instagram takeover.  

“The photos and video I'm posting the week of the takeover are part of an essay I made over there called "Helmand by Air,” he said,  “It's all photos of aircraft landing or taking off, I spent so much time flying from place to place it was only natural to make the essay.”

In five years, Putnam hopes to keep doing journalism full time. “ I see myself back west shooting TV news,” he said. 

He advises others to find what they are passionate about, develop it and grow out from there. “We all need to find a comfort zone to develop,” he said. “It turns out my comfort zone was conflict zones.” 

Putnam’s work can be viewed by visiting his website at www.billputnamphoto.net, on Instagram @billputnamphoto, on Vimeo at www.vimeo.com/billputnamphoto, or on Medium at https://medium.com/@BillPutnamPhoto