Ai LIVE: “Bomber Boys” Exhibition Creator John Slemp Joins Ai LIVE

By: Janessa Armstrong

November 10, 2022

In this episode of Ai LIVE, host E. Vincent Martinez is joined by two guests: photographer, John Slemp, a professional photographer with over thirty years of experience; and Laura McLaws Helms, a fashion and cultural historian. They discuss the origins and impact of Slemp’s WWII bomber jacket gallery exhibition, “Bomber Boys.”

Laura McLaws Helms and John Slemp

Slemp grew up with a father in the armed forces, and he served in the army as well. Since his family had been in the service for a long time, he’s lived in a lot of different places and met a lot of different people. Eventually, he moved into photography, working in advertising and for corporations. In 2007, he chose aviation as his main subject.

He joined his Experimental Aircraft Association chamber in Atlanta, and a member brought in their uncle’s bomber jacket.  Slemp was amazed at the artwork and the story the jacket told. As he continued to research various WWII bomber jackets, he learned to appreciate the people who wore them as much as the varied artwork on each one.

Helms got involved when Slemp reached out to her, wanting to know more of the history of the bomber jacket and its impact on the then-current fashion. Helms notes that because of media such as films, the bomber jacket impacted popular culture and fashion, which in turn influenced movies in a sort of cyclical fashion.

The project continued to grow; Slemp gave presentations, one standing room only, on the history of the bomber jackets at airshows. A grandmother and granddaughter came from Iowa to Atlanta to bring a jacket for Slemp to photograph. The project had an impact because of how personal it was. Many of these jackets belonged to family members, and it helped Slemp realize even more that an actual person once wore this jacket in the theater of war.

He hopes the collection will help people realize that military service means something. That the young men who wore these jackets had a duty to go and do, and they impacted history in such a positive way. After the war, many of these WWII veterans went to college and went on to become doctors in many different fields.

Both Helms and Slemp urge students to be open to experiences and look for inspiration everywhere. Since inspiration can strike anywhere, it’s important to go out and have a lot of experiences. Slemp adds that students will figure it out, but if they’re not in the game, they can’t figure it out. He urges students to get out their work and let their work stand as a testament to their skills. While he notes that fear will most likely be present, it’s important to learn how to control it and push through it.

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By: Janessa Armstrong

November 10, 2022