From the Desk: West Virginia

From the Desk: West Virginia

I’m afraid that iv’e been away from the desk for far too long! For those of you who don’t already know, I moved to West Virginia exactly one month ago to take a staff position at the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the state’s largest newspaper. Since then I have largely set up my new apartment (I now own a washer and dryer, guess that means i’m an adult now?) and have gotten to know the city and the surrounding area.

Ruth Andrien, a former dancer with Paul Taylor Dance Company, instructs Sheena Madden Jackson during a master class at the Charleston Ballet studio in Charleston, W.Va., on Thursday, June 22, 2017.
Jesus Flores of Selma, CA jumps in the air as he is announced the winner against a grimacing Patrick Cody of Spokane, WA at the 2017 USA Boxing Junior Olympic Championships at the Charleston Civic Center in Charleston. W.V., on Saturday, July 01, 2017.
When you’re trying to shoot assignments in classrooms…

So for any of you who might be wondering, why West Virginia? There are a couple of reasons. I wanted wherever I was going to go to be a place where I could share impactful stories. To be sure, this is something that can be done anywhere, as there are always stories to be told no matter where you are.

However, West Virginia in particular is ground zero for some of the larger issues facing the country today; from the decline of once dominant industries that millions depended upon for their livelihoods to the effects of the opioid epidemic on addicts, their families and the communities that they live in. Those are issues that I want to cover. However, I also don’t have any desire to engage in making work that does nothing but reinforce simplistic (and to many of those who live here, blatantly offensive) stereotypes of the region. Iv’e only been here for a month, and I already know that there are so many good people here who love their state and are doing everything they can to make it better. Those are the people whose stories in particular that I want to tell.

Andrea Morrison touches a memorial plaque embedded in the stones of a bridge built to commemorate those whose lives were lost in the flooding last year in White Sulphur Springs. People were allowed to cross after the bridge was commemorated on the anniversary of the flood on Friday, June 23, 2017. Morrison said that her son’s best friend was among those who died.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice speaks about the budget bill passed by lawmakers last week in the Capitol reception room in Charleston, WV on June 21, 2017.
Vietnam veteran Ernest Willie speaks of his experience with Veterans Affairs at the new Vet Center in Charleston. W.V., on Thursday, July 06, 2017.
Hannah Gates examines her costume before a rehearsal of King Lear at Concord University in Athens, W.V., on Tuesday, July 11, 2017.

I also like moving to places that have a certain mythos about them. Places that hold a certain image, no matter how true or false, in the American psyche. It’s one of the reasons that I moved to the Black Hills region of South Dakota, an area often associated with “The West” and all of the concepts that come with it. Like the West, Appalachia is more than just the name of a region based on the series of mountain ranges that form it.

Raiders Outside Linebacker and former WVU star Bruce Irvin is swamped by camp attendees during the third annual Bruce Irvin Football Clinic on the turf field at Little Creek Park in South Charleston, W.V., on Saturday, June 24, 2017. The clinic was hosted by local sports organization CJKB Infinity Sports.
Alexxis Tunstalle is held under a sprinkler by her cousin Ana Collins at the Magic Island splash pad in Charleston,W.V., on Wednesday, June 28, 2017.
Najee Edwards, 12, eats his California roll during a workshop on sushi making inside the Kanawha County Public Library Central Library in Charleston. W.V., on Thursday, July 06, 2017. The workshop was taught by Megumi Homma.
Hudson Swafford hides his face after missing a putt on the 12th green at the Greenbrier Classic in White Sulphur Springs. W.V., on Saturday, July 08, 2017.

Appalachia conjures up images and ideas of a culture, of a certain kind of lifestyle. To cite an example: Don’t act like you haven’t drunkenly belted out the chorus lines to John Denver’s “Take me Home, Country Roads” at least once at some bar or late in the night at your friend’s kegger. I want to experience for myself these kinds of places and see just how much of those ideas and assumptions are made up or hold water.

Dancers are reflected in a mirror lining the wall inside the Charleston Ballet studio during a master class on modern ballet in Charleston, W.Va., on Thursday, June 22, 2017.
A PGA Tour worker takes note of the outside weather advisory at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs. W.V., on Tuesday, July 04, 2017.

That’s about what I have for now. I’m going to make a point of writing more frequently on this blog now that I am shooting full time again. I want to write not only about the experiences I am having now but also what experiences i have had and the lessons learned from them that someone else looking to become a photojournalist themself might find useful. I also want to start sharing more of my travel guides again, as I have a lot to say about the places that iv’e been, including a comprehensive guide to Washington, D.C.

Talk again soon!