A Celebration of Service
Story by Abby Wolverton
Photography by Laura Hatcher
When retired Navy captain Laura Hatcher agreed to sit down with me for an interview on her career as a commanding officer and current work as a photographer, she initially said that she would normally decline.
“I really prefer to be behind the camera. I know I had a great career [in the Navy], but sometimes I suffer from a bit of impostor syndrome. I don’t like the spotlight.”
It’s a curious statement from a woman who--even in her civilian life--commands a room with her energy and confidence—confidence that Laura says she acquired through her leadership experience in the military.
“We are taught in the military that--although you won’t always be the smartest person in the room--your leadership should instill trust and confidence to inspire others to be successful.”
Despite shying away from the spotlight, the varied details of Laura’s background thread together to create a rich narrative of a purpose driven life, filled with anecdotes that she conveys with a lively spark.
Laura was born in the United Kingdom to a British mother and an American father, who served in the United States Air Force. She spent the first nine years of her life in Europe before moving between postings in Central America and Southern California. The transitions, she says, were not always easy.
“I experienced bullying because I was different. I was an odd kid. Race played a role as well. I wasn’t Black enough for my Black friends, and I wasn’t White enough for my White friends.”
Raised by her mother and Puerto Rican stepfather—a United States Navy veteran—Laura says that the military was a natural fit by virtue of her rearing and the ways that her parents’ influence sculpted her career path.
“There were early influences. My stepfather, being military, was a disciplinarian—which I needed as a teen girl--and that shapes you. I didn’t have a curfew because there was no going out. I definitely credit my parents as the reason I went into the military.”
Despite having ambitions that were clearly defined from a young age, Laura’s experience was not without adversity or unique challenges. While the family was stationed in the Republic of Panama during the mid-1980’s, Laura’s stepfather introduced her to a young Marine Corps officer and Naval Academy graduate—at a time shortly after the first class of female students matriculated.
“They were still trying to get used to women…he sits me down and gets me really excited about joining the Naval Academy, but at the end of the conversation, he tells me I probably won’t make it because I’m a girl. It made me so angry, but it also made me want to do it even more.”
Laura was eventually recruited play Navy volleyball and graduated with the class of 1992. Never one to shy away from a challenge, drive and dedication are features that seem to define Laura’s character at a core level—despite the additional obstacles that race and sex have created at times.
“I was the girl who tried out for the boy’s football team…the first community I joined [in the Navy] was a men’s fraternity, I was a Navy Diver. I always made a point of doing anything a man could do just as well if not better—but as women, sometimes that means we have to work twice as hard.”
That hard work paid off as Laura climbed the ranks in her military career. Laura served as the first Ship’s Intelligence Officer for the USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH, for which she received recognition—and a kiss on the cheek--from the ship’s namesake, President Bush, in 2009. Laura also served as Commanding Officer, Navy Expeditionary Intelligence Command in Dam Neck, Virginia in 2011. She retired from the Navy in 2018.
“It was very emotional leaving an organization I’d been a part of my entire life—and overwhelming leaving the rules behind and being told I can do anything I want.”
Though she spent her first year as a civilian working for a non-profit, Laura says her time there made her realize that she was ready to pursue a career path that was focused on her own agenda and incorporated a little bit more fun and creativity.
Photography had been a passion of Laura’s for five years prior to pursuing a profession in the field. The artistic streak, she says, was present early on and encouraged by her mother.
“My mother was definitely creative...I think it was always there, I just suppressed it.”
Though she describes the discipline-oriented culture of the military as a “dress rehearsal for entrepreneurship,” for Laura, the connection between her Navy service and work as a photographer goes even deeper.
“I know why this brings me so much joy. I’m back in command. [At my studio,] I’m in control. I get to put people’s fear at ease. I’m solving problems. I’m doing all the things I learned in the military.”
Laura says the majority of her clients are veterans and that she continues her role as a mentor “above and beyond” photography—trying to ease help their anxiety while transitioning out of military life. The most rewarding part of her job, she says, is helping veterans preserve their legacy through her photography.
“Working with veterans, I emphasize the need to celebrate their service. Service members are a small percentage of the country who say that regardless of your race, gender or political affiliations, they’re willing to die for you. I get goosebumps talking about it because it’s so important to thank ourselves for our sacrifice.”
For Laura, there’s no better place to celebrate that service than an event she says is often overlooked by photographers: the retirement ceremony.
“I take the script and reenact the entire ceremony in a photobook. I’m capturing the tears…the smiles of the veteran and their family. I recently did a ceremony where the grandchild stole the show by climbing behind the podium and hugging his grandfather’s leg. That grandchild is now part of a military legacy.”
Outside of ceremonies, Laura specializes in headshots and photographing landscapes. She enjoys bringing out overlooked features in her subjects and tries to capture them with authenticity.
“I’ve trained myself to study subjects. You can find something unique even in the mundane.”
Laura’s studio is located in Old Town Alexandria. She lives in Mt. Vernon with her husband of 24 years, who works as an educator, and the youngest of their three sons—the second eldest has chosen to pursue a career in the military, continuing a family legacy of service handed down by a mother who went to work in combat boots.
Learn more about Laura Hatcher Photography by visiting Laura online at www.laurahatcherphotography.com