From the Desk: Notes and thoughts on one year in West Virginia

From the Desk: Notes and thoughts on one year in West Virginia

It’s now been a year and two months since I moved to West Virginia.

When I accepted the job at the Gazette-Mail, I was almost a month into living in my best friend’s loft in DC after moving back from South Dakota; where I worked at the Rapid City Journal for four months before being suddenly laid off. Other than Harpers Ferry, I’d spent no time in West Virginia. “why are you here!?” was a common question. Admittedly, the first time I visited Charleston, I wasn’t impressed. From the height of its population of eighty thousand in the 60’s, the city count barely scratched fifty thousand now, and that number showed itself in the numerous closed storefronts and vacant lots that lined the streets. With the exception of Capitol street, every other one seemed like a random mishmash of drab office buildings and parking garages. I liked my apartment well enough, but I knew it’d take some time for me to warm up to this place.

In a city where the median age is 39, making friends in my age bracket hasn’t been easy. Thankfully, that has changed as of recently, and I’m the happiest I’ve been since I moved here. The scene continues to get brighter as new restaurants, cafes, bars and other businesses pop up around town. I’ve made some great friends, and only grown more comfortable here as time has gone on. Meanwhile, West Virginia itself is undeniably beautiful. I’ve swam in more creeks and rivers and done more hiking here then any other place I’ve lived. Nature surrounds you everywhere, and there are few places in the entire country more beautiful than West Virginia in the fall; when the entire state turns into a sea of gold and crimson.

All too often states like West Virginia are depicted in extremely simplistic stereotypes; coal, trump country, moonshine etc. A lot of people would probably be surprised to learn that the coal industry makes up less than 3% of the state workforce, whereas other sectors of the state economy such as healthcare and tourism combined make up over 26%. While it’s true that all 55 counties of West Virginia voted for Trump in the 2016 election, it’s also true that all 55 counties voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. More than that, Democrats dominated state politics for generations. It’s only been over the past 20 years or so that West Virginia’s legislature has flipped to a republican majority. Moonshining was popular in West Virginia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but moonshine has since been legalized and sold as a commercial product. Marijuana growing has long replaced moonshine as the illicit product of choice in West Virginia, with cash flows far more lucrative to its cultivators than moonshining ever brought to its distillers.

Despite a steady stream of stories that come out of here that focus on the things you’d expect to be covered here, the truth is West Virginia is not the backwards, poverty stricken hell hole it’s often made out to be. West Virginia is a complicated state, with a history that is complex and deeply misunderstood. This isn’t to say this state doesn’t have major problems; Near-colonial exploitation of the state’s natural resources for generations by out of state entities that cared little for what collateral damage they inflicted on the land and people, A drug epidemic fueled in part by pharmaceutical companies that flooded West Virginia with prescription drugs, a steady exodus of young people, lack of opportunities, poor education and infrastructure from lack of proper funding. longstanding political corruption that makes a lot of other state governments look saintly in comparison. The list could surely go on.

But I’ve also met a lot of amazing people here; people who love this state and do their best every day to make it better. For each person that may pine for the “good old days”, there’s another person eager to look to a future beyond the resource dependent, boom-bust cycle economy that the state has largely relied on for much its 155 years of existence. I’ve also seen some pretty amazing things. Thousands of teachers across all counties in the state converged for weeks at the capitol demanding higher wages and a stable state health insurance program; a victory that has turned into a movement across the country. 4th and 5th grade students giving presentations to their classmates about everything from ways of solving the opioid crisis to alternative energies, 3d printers and more. People who’ve started farmers markets and greenhouses to alleviate the food deserts that plague the state. People who left the state and came back to open businesses and help their communities grow. I’ve learned a lot living here, and I’m glad I made the decision to do so. I thought i’d end this post with a small gallery of photos in no particular order dedicated to the people who make up West Virginia and give it the spirit it has.

I hope the reader understands, even just a little, that there’s a lot more to West Virginia then what you’ve read or heard. Thanks for reading!

The Month in Photos: August.

The Month in Photos: August.

So since it’s now September, I thought I’d make a little post about the month of August, which was a fantastic month for images. Easily the best so far since I started in late June. Shooting nearly every day again after not doing so for almost 5 months has me feeling sharper visually, and with fall right around the corner, a time in which West Virginia explodes in color, the photos will hopefully continue to keep coming.

Alan Withrow of Poca jumps to block Josh Hoffman during a half court game outside of the Nitro High School football stadium during the Wildcats game against the Poca Dots on August 25, 2017 in Nitro, W.V.
Landon Coleman, 11, playfully runs a relay around stacked arrows before target practice as part of the Centershot program at St. Peters church in St. Albans, W.V., on Wednesday, August 30, 2017.
A group of students walk down a long hallway during open house at Herbert Hoover High’s new portable complex in Elkview, W.V., on Friday, August 11, 2017.
Lightning strikes over a rest stop along Route 240 in Virginia last night.
Belinda Harnass, Housing Authority director for Mingo County, looks into a room at the Sycamore Inn in Williamson, W.V., on Wednesday, August 09, 2017. The County is moving to turn the Inn into a center for continued sobriety of recovering addicts, to the ire of the local city government.
Authorities remove cats from a residence in Kanwaha City on Tuesday, August 29, 2017. An estimated 80 + cats were removed from the house.
Many friends, family and members of the Brother’s Keepers Motorcycle Club, of which Denise Fernatt was a member, gathered for a candlelight vigil in her honor at Hughes Creek Community Church of God in Cedar Grove, W.V., on Friday, August 11, 2017.

Of course, we all know that the Great American eclipse stole the show this month, and for perfectly good reason; It was nothing short of breathtakingly ethereal. I drove down to South Carolina for it, where my good friend Josh Morgan is currently working as a staffer for the Greenville Tribune. It was great catching up with him and our friend Angus Mordant, who does work as a stringer for the NY Daily News. We spent the weekend together and shot the totality, Josh from the top of the highest building in the city and Angus & I down in Falls Park where hundreds had gathered to watch. As totality neared the area began to turn a golden hue as though it were late afternoon, and the crowd cheered with every noticeable shade the area became darker. As soon as totality hit however, late afternoon almost instantly turned to dusk. People shouted and applauded witnessing this unbelievable spectacle; a black orb vivid in a cobalt blue sky where the sun had been a moment ago. Looking through my camera, the corona of the sun was clear as a beautiful and delicate light that seemed to dance around the moon, rolling outward like a shining wave. Knowing time was very short I quickly snapped a few close images before shooting what I could of the surrounding landscape and the people lining the bridge directly above us. I was glad to be able to have some kind of foreground in the image, as it was 2:39 in the afternoon and the sun lie almost straight up above us.

Crowds of people gaze and snap photos of totality during the great American eclipse in Greenville, SC., on Monday, August 21, 2017.
Falls Park goes dark during totality of the great American eclipse in Greenville, SC., on Monday, August 21, 2017.
The great American eclipse is seen in totality in Greenville, SC., on Monday, August 21, 2017.


Nathan Kagolanu and Fiorella Tello wait for totality of the great American eclipse in Greenville, SC., on Monday, August 21, 2017.


Shawn Anthony, 6, of Charlotte looks through his solar glasses during the great American eclipse in Greenville, SC., on Monday, August 21, 2017.

This month started out continuing ride alongs with EMS supervisors in the city as they went from scene to scene, with breaks in between at the firehouses on either side of the city. While the focus of the written story was on new mindfulness classes offered to fire & ems personnel, I had the opportunity to speak with them more directly about the effects that the opioid epidemic is having on their resources. I learned that one of the largest issues that they are facing is the avalanche of calls received that turn out to be false alarms, one common scenario being calls from bystanders calling about someone lying on the ground who they believe might be overdosing, only for personnel to show up and discover it’s just a person taking a nap on the grass. While personnel are grateful that bystanders do call in when they think their might be a problem, they are frustrated that most of the time, bystanders themselves will do nothing to see if the person is in fact just someone napping on the grass, instead their first and only step being to call 911. Another issue is that because the epidemic is so pervasive, crimes that in the past may not have been necessarily drug related, from domestic abuse to car accidents and robberies, are now often a factor. It seems, there are few crimes committed now in which drugs are not involved.

EMS Supervisor Mace and Paramedics tend to a woman believed to be overdosing on methamphetamine on a street in Charleston, WV on August 2, 2017. Paramedics have been flooded with calls related to overdoses, stretching their already limited resources.


Paramedic personnel at work in Charleston on July 26, 2017.
Paramedic personnel at work in Charleston on July 26, 2017.
Captain Mark Strickland drives on patrol in Charleston on July 26, 2017.

This month was also the first time that I photographed one of Pres. Trump’s rallies. I think anyone that knows me already is well aware of my feelings regarding him, so i’ll move past this one.

Wayne County residents Elaina Farr, Sydnie Benson and Emily Robinson hold up a Donald Trump campaign flag as Carla Russell watches outside the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington on Thursday afternoon. Trump, the nation’s 45th president, was scheduled to make a campaign-style appearance in Huntington on Thursday evening.
From left, Betsy Forester, Sally Roberts Wilson and Charlene Vaughan protests outside of the Big Sandy Superstore arena before Pres. Trump’s rally in Huntington, W.V., on Thursday, August 03, 2017.
From left, James Davis of Huntington, Garry Pauley of Charleston and Donna Childers of Huntington wait for the start of Pres. Trump’s political rally inside the Big Sandy Superstore arena in Huntington, W.V., on Thursday, August 03, 2017.
President Trump holds up a sign handed to him by a supporter during a political rally inside the Big Sandy Superstore arena in Huntington, W.V., on Thursday, August 03, 2017.
A protester is forcibly removed during Pres. Trump’s political rally inside the Big Sandy Superstore arena in Huntington, W.V., on Thursday, August 03, 2017.
From right, David Thompson, Scott Ratliff, Angel Staten, Greg Miranda, Mike Otter, Paul Nemeth and Tim Bolen of the IATSE Local 369 bring down a large American flag after President Trump’s political rally at the Big Sandy Superstore arena in Huntington, W.V., on Thursday, August 03, 2017.

This month was very varied in subject matter. While July saw mostly tennis and golf, this month had me shooting a little bit of everything. I particularly loved going to spend a day at the state fair, despite having a pretty bad cold at the time. I’d never photographed a state fair before, and I love the visuals they bring about in my head-The stock shows, the carnival rides that turn into a sea of blinking vivid lights in motion at dusk, the cheap food and of course, waves of people from every corner of the state.

Fairgoers are reflected in a puddle at the State Fair of West Virginia in Lewisburg, W.V., on Wednesday, August 16, 2017.
Maci Bostic, 5, and Aubree Blake, ride teacups at the State Fair of West Virginia in Lewisburg, W.V., on Wednesday, August 16, 2017.
Alex Hobbs, 7, of Monroe County sits on a motorcycle ride at the State Fair of West Virginia in Lewisburg, W.V., on Wednesday, August 16, 2017.
A bingo booth is seen at the State Fair of West Virginia in Lewisburg, W.V., on Wednesday, August 16, 2017.
Abigail Okes of Okes Family Farms in Raleigh County shaves Jack, a Yorkshire pig before the showmanship show in the morning at the State Fair of West Virginia in Lewisburg, W.V., on Wednesday, August 16, 2017.
Edith Wade of Blue Rock Swine gives a wash to a Chester White pig before tomorrow’s show at the State Fair of West Virginia in Lewisburg, W.V., on Wednesday, August 16, 2017.
At the State Fair of West Virginia in Lewisburg, W.V., on Wednesday, August 16, 2017.
Isabell Vaughan, 11, shares a quiet moment with ruby red, a heifer calf at the State Fair of West Virginia in Lewisburg, W.V., on Wednesday, August 16, 2017.
Rylan Vaughan, 11, walks ruby red the heifer calf after a wash at the State Fair of West Virginia in Lewisburg, W.V., on Wednesday, August 16, 2017.
Arika Jayne of Alderson gives some attention to a pig at the State Fair of West Virginia in Lewisburg, W.V., on Wednesday, August 16, 2017.
Children run inside an obstacle course at the State Fair of West Virginia in Lewisburg, W.V., on Wednesday, August 16, 2017.
Kaysee Amick helps her nephew Brenten Ritchea, 4, win a shooting game at the State Fair of West Virginia in Lewisburg, W.V., on Wednesday, August 16, 2017.
Karl Riffe and his son Garrett, 12, enjoy a ride at the State Fair of West Virginia in Lewisburg, W.V., on Wednesday, August 16, 2017.

This month also saw the beginning of football and soccer! Two sports iv’e come to very much enjoy shooting, not only for the action on the field but even mores for all that happens off it!

Winfield’s Sydney Cavender and Peyton Frohnapfel collide with Midland’s Maddie Meehling and Rayen Ciccollen during the Winfield lady Generals match against Cabell Midland at Winfield high school on Tuesday, August 22, 2017.
Fans Katie Burns, Lexi Crompton and Maddie Dawson wave the Hurricane flag during the Hurricane Redskins-Winfield Generals football game at Hurricane High School on Friday, August 25, 2017.
Trevon Scruggs, 10, runs through for a touchdown as Noah Petty and Brycen Orcutt try to block him as they play a makeshift game on a grassy field before the South Charleston Black Eagles -George Washington Patriots football game at South Charleston High School on Thursday, August 24, 2017.
Jr. ROTC cadet Hydiah White dances to music played over the loudspeakers as Dillon Tucker laughs before the South Charleston Black Eagles -George Washington Patriots football game at South Charleston High School on Thursday, August 24, 2017.
The South Charleston Black Eagles make their entrance before their football game against the George Washington Patriots at South Charleston High School on Thursday, August 24, 2017.

Well that’s it for now. Iv’e got a number of other written blog posts on the way, so they’ll be coming out soon! Thanks for stopping by.

-Craig H


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!






From the Desk: Missing the Shot

From the Desk: Missing the Shot


It happens to all of us, more than we would probably like it to. You get an assignment with a brief description of the subject, sometimes it’s a person, place or event. Maybe you’ve already started visualizing the shot you want in your head, or maybe thats not your style. Either way, at some point in the assignment, wether its the moment you arrive, while you’re there or right as you’re leaving, you see the shot happen in front of you (or off to the side or somewhere else, you know what i mean) Whether it’s because you didn’t put yourself in the right position, choose the right lens, the right exposure or any of the other familiar obstacles and rookie mistakes

like chimping. Stop it. Stop doing it. 

Whatever the reason, you miss it. And almost instantly you know, sometimes a few seconds after or even as the moment is still happening, that that moment was the picture. It’s not even a thought; it’s a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Obviously, you don’t just give up and walk away. You keep shooting the assignment and try your best for as long as you can. Maybe at the end you still come away with something that you’re proud of, and sometimes you don’t. either way, you think of that picture you didn’t get. Sometimes it bothers you more than you know it should and you beat yourself up about it, because when you pour so much of your energy, so much of your heart and soul into something, that “something” for better or worse becomes a part of you; how you see yourself, who you are. When that happens it’s hard to separate yourself from what you might look at as a failed assignment; to not fall into the trap of feeling like you are a failure because of it.

When that happens its important to remember that this whole thing is a marathon and not a race, that the missed moment can be a lesson learned so you won’t miss a more important one later, and that even the best of the best make mistakes too.

With that in mind, I thought I would share a couple of my more memorable experiences of not getting the shot; the could have been’s and never were’s. These aren’t good pictures, and that’s kind of the point.

A hopelessly out of focus President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walk on a blurry Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House. 

My immediate favorite when it comes to my screw ups, I was able to get a pass to cover Obama’s second inaugural parade. I got to the place relatively early, and was tipped off by an AP guy on the press riser that Obama would be getting out of the beast somewhere around 9th and Pennsylvania and walk for a couple blocks before getting back into it. I walked over to the space and saw a bench with no one on it. All I had to do was go sit on it and wait for awhile. But no, I didn’t feel like doing that. I went to get some food. By the time I got back it was a solid wall of people, and the bench, totally full. So as the Obama’s got out where the guy said they would, I had to hail mary it with an 80-200mm from the 90’s that already wasn’t good at focusing even when I was looking through the viewfinder. The results were predictable. I got nothing. I was so angry I left immediately and didn’t talk to anyone for a good 24 hours. It doesn’t bother me at all now; thousands of photos of the Obama’s were taken that day, but at the time it meant a lot to me.

Elder Ronald Demery walks down the stairs after greeting congregants at the front door to give a sermon in the basement of Bibleway Temple.

Ever since this assignment iv’e done my best to get to places early (just assignments, i’m still working on that in my personal life) I was assigned to photograph a young pastor who was taking a leadership position in a very old and traditional church in DC. I got to the assignment right on time; and too late. Just as I was walking up I saw him greeting and hugging the last few people at the front door. I felt it right then and there that that was the photo I needed and that everything else I took would just be secondary. As much as i tried to make interesting pictures in the basement while he gave his sermon, my pictures (if I’m being generous) were just ok. I didn’t get another call from the Metro desk for a year.

If this photo screams I have no Idea what i’m doing, you’re absolutely right!

I cringe every time I open the folder of this shoot. It’s so awful. This was my first portrait assignment for the SF Chronicle during my internship there, and I knew next to nothing about portraits. I had a lighting kit given to me, but I had no idea how to really use it. I was assigned to photograph a ballerina who had come all the way from France to perform/study in San Francisco. I was told I’d be shooting her while she practiced and to try and get a portrait of her as well. But there was a mixup with the timing and I actually got to the building as she was finishing practice. So I found myself desperately trying to look like I knew what I was doing shooting with no lights in the blaring afternoon sun. I was grasping for straws to the point that I told her to lay on the bush, because the bushes and design of the bars reminded me of Versailles and I figured that was reasonable enough. Considering how inept I was, she was incredibly gracious with her time and attitude. I walked back to the Chronicle and showed my miserable photos to Russell the photo editor, who asked me if I thought the photos were beautiful. When I said no he handed me back my laptop and said “well that’s what you have to do next time” before walking away.

A police officer pulls an American flag from the hands of an occupier the morning after occupiers assembled a winter shelter in McPherson Square in downtown Washington.

This was back when the Occupy Movement was happening. The campers had just put up the “occubarn” in the early morning.

I was going for an iwo-jima esque photo, which didn’t happen thanks in part to that dude who’s literally doing nothing

It’s not that good a picture, but I remember this being the first photo i took that really pissed me off when the officer just walked into the frame at the perfect time to mess it up.  Speaking of being in the frame.

You know when your’e shooting a really touching and intimate story but theres that person there that just can’t help inserting themselves into every photo and you don’t really know how to tell them to get out of your shot without it getting awkward? 

Well it’s almost 4am here, and I know I have plenty of missed photos in my albums at work, so i’ll probably add more tomorrow when i can look through them.


From the Desk: On Assignments

From the Desk: On Assignments

I wanted to share some background info on a few images from the previous week’s work: the premise of the assignments, how I approached them and the thoughts behind the images. To be honest, I don’t know how much interest there will be in a  post like this. I’m writing this post for myself so I can take some of these experiences to heart and remember them. If theres one thing Iv’e definitely learned, you can’t remind yourself enough of the basics.

Daniella Salem, 3, playfully puts her hand over her mother Egija’s face prior to going onstage for the kids fashion show during Diwali Night at the School of Mines on Saturday evening. Put on annually by the India Club at Mines, Diwali, also known as the festival of lights, is a celebration of the triumph of light over darkness. The event is used as an occasion to increase awareness and understanding of Indian culture.

This image sums up (at least for me) the objective that all photojournalists look for in approaching an assignment…

The challenge is relatively simple; find the unscripted in the scripted, the anomaly in the routine, the unique in the standard.

You see, there’s a quick formula for completing a photo assignment at its most basic level. You need a wide, overall image that sets the scene. You also need a medium image that shows the subject of the story. Finally, you need a tight, detail shot; a close-up image of an item or object that accompany’s the medium shot and adds additional information to the story. As an example; if I were shooting the stands in a stadium during a playoff game, the wide would be an overall shot of the stands, the medium a group of fans in the stands, and the detail a sign that someone was holding. There’s a phrase that sums up this formula; CYA or Cover Your Ass. These are the pictures you take so as to fulfill the basic requirements of the assignment and not piss off your photo editor and the layout team.

And then there is the anomaly image.

One of my professors described it as the “surprise” image.

The surprise image is the shot that rises above the others. It transcends the parameters of the assignment itself and stands on its own. Sometimes the surprise of a football game shows itself on the sidelines. Sometimes it is the backstage during a show; the finish line of a parade or a face in the crowd during a politician’s speech.

Learning the technical aspects of a camera down to an intuitive level is the easy part. It’s capturing a moment; a real moment. Not forced but a candid, intimate, human moment. That’s hard.

Chuck Thompson poses for a portrait inside of his apartment on Friday afternoon. Thompson, who served in the Navy for two years working as a mechanic on F-14 Tomcats, was homeless for several years in Colorado and Rapid City before enrolling in the HUD VASH program that helps veterans with rent so they can have a place to stay.

I was assigned to photograph a formerly homeless veteran in his apartment as a part of a larger story the Journal is doing on homeless veterans in the city. I had ideas for photos that I wanted and packed accordingly, but along with my canon gear and a lighting kit from work I also decided to bring my own Nikon with a 50mm f/1.4 attached, hoping to get a tight shot of his face after getting everything else I wanted. However, as soon as I got there with the reporter it became clear that nobody had spoken to him prior about a photographer being there as well, and he flat out refused to have any pictures taken. Rather than just leave right then and there as I might have done in the past, I sat down with the reporter and listened to the vet talk for almost two hours, engaging in conversation with him at times  and just letting him get used to me. After the reporter had exhausted all of her questions, I was able to talk him into having his picture taken; just him, no apartment. It was clear he wasn’t going to let me bring in any lights and there was just enough window light to make a passable image, so I was glad that I brought the Nikon with the 50mm that I used to take this shot. The picture’s not great. I went into this assignment anticipating walking away with a lot more than this. But I still consider it a small success because it’s an example of one of the most common and frequent challenges of being a photojournalist; turning a no into a yes.

Krista Young, a volunteer and mother of Thunder Boy goalie John Young, cleans the windows during the Thunder Boys varsity hockey practice at the Thunderdome Thursday evening in preparation for tomorrows game when the Thunder Boys will host Pierre for the first game of the Thunder tournament tomorrow.

I was assigned to shoot this hockey team’s practice before their first game of the season the next day. I spent the entire assignment with them; shooting them changing into their clothes in the locker room, waiting on the side of the rink for the ice resurfacer to finish and the practice itself. I was on my way out when I noticed a few people cleaning the floors and windows around the rink. I thought that the act of people cleaning the arena was as much a visualization of preparation as the hockey players themselves practicing, and I liked the idea of capturing that with both elements in the same image. The woman who turned out to be a volunteer for the team rushed to clean the window pane because she thought that I just wanted to shoot the team through the window, Ha!

A fireman watches the fire line of the Silver Mountain Prescribed Burn from a roadway Tuesday afternoon. Today’s prescribed burn of 209 acres marked the first phase of the project which ultimately calls for the burning of more than 1000 acres.

This was the last image that I took on this assignment, and it turned out to be my favorite image. I got to shoot my first fire; a prescribed burn that was five years in the making. I shot the guys lighting the fire and walked with a crew to an overlook where they were putting down photo points. I even walked up an adjacent ridge to shoot the fire from above. I was driving on the dirt road away from the fire when i noticed the stark light beams being made through the smoke. I stopped my car and leaned myself as far out the window as I could to shoot one of the guys who was watching to make sure that the fire didn’t jump the road. At first his back was turned to me, but I waited assuming he would turn at some point which is when I took this picture.

The blue spruce tree is placed onto Main Street Square on Wednesday morning.
A large blue spruce tree arrives at Main Street Square on Wednesday morning. A lighting ceremony will be held at the Square’s Holiday Celebration and Winter Market on Saturday at 5 p.m.

I’m trying to look more and more for the quirky image; one that gives at first glance a chuckle. This visual of a person disappearing into this massive tree was one that came to mind before the assignment and tried to capture as the tree was being placed into a harness to be moved into the square.

Aviation mechanic Roy Kimbell returns to finish repairing an oil leak on a Cessna 172 engine inside a hangar at the Black Hills Airport in Spearfish. The city recently assumed control of the airport which until now had been under the management of Lawrence County.

I was assigned to take photos of Spearfish airport, which had recently been granted control of the local airport which had previously been under the control of the county. I wanted to shoot more than just a couple photos of a line of jets set out on the runway. Walking across the airfield to a hanger that housed the administrative office, I came upon Roy fixing up an airplane. Talking with him for awhile was a great experience, an he added a human element to what could have been arbitrary images of some buildings or planes.

Some additional photos from this week.

From the Desk: 1 month; a retrospective

From the Desk: 1 month; a retrospective

It has been exactly one month since I started working at the Journal. So I wanted to share some of my images taken while on assignment and put down some thoughts I have had since starting…

A group of women and their dogs wait to participate in a competition during the 2016 Rapid City Kennel Club Dog Show at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Friday afternoon.

Photojournalism is in some ways unlike any other job in the world, while in others it is like any other job. One of those things being that it’s very easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and become frustrated with yourself; what you are doing and where you are going.

Julie Gilliland and Eli Hernandez practice reading during Denise McCormick’s kindergarten class at Badger Clark Elementary School in Box Elder on Tuesday afternoon. The Douglas School District Board of Education has approved a proposal to realign grades k-3, which has upset some parents.

While photojournalism is hands down the best career in the world and one that I wouldn’t trade for anything else, it doesn’t mean there aren’t days where I want to rip my hair out from dealing with the daily grind.


And what is the daily grind?

The varsity boys cross country teams of local community high schools run at the start of the 2016 Region 5A Cross Country Meet at Rocky Knolls Golf Course in Custer.


The daily grind is a high school volleyball game and a minor league hockey game followed the next day by a city council meeting and a building dedication ceremony.

Forwards Josh MacDonald and Ryan Walters wrestle the puck away from forward Travis Ewanyk during the Rapid City Rush’s match against the Idaho Steelheads at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center on Wednesday night.

The daily grind is running back and forth for an hour and a half on a football field in 35 degrees because both teams suck and won’t stop punting.

Bonny Petersen and Leanna Bussell meditate to remain calm during a 2016 presidential election watch party for the democratic party in Pennington County at the Rushmore hotel in downtown Rapid City.

The daily grind is a person at a podium.

Ellen Pinholt proposes the construction of a fenced-in dog park on Idlehurst lane in Rapid City to the Vision Fund Citizen Committee in the community room at city hall on Tuesday.


The daily grind is another high school volleyball game and a minor league hockey game, followed the next day by a photograph of an elementary school.

The daily grind is trying to make a storage unit and an exercising room look interesting.

The daily grind is being told about a really awesome assignment you’ll be doing the next morning then being told 30 minutes later that the paper is using handout photos instead.

The daily grind is waiting another hour to go home because the writer hasn’t got back to you yet about info you need for a caption and there’s a hornet that somehow got through two separate doors just to exclusively menace your desk.

The daily grind is two more high school volleyball games.

Custer outside hitter Morgan Parys hits the ball during a match against the Hill City Rangers on Tuesday afternoon.


But sometimes…

The daily grind is running on a muddy field with rain and hail pouring down on you without a rain jacket using a safeway plastic bag to keep your camera dry and not caring because you know the photos will be great.

Crusader Running back and Line Back Daveon Provost leads stretches during football practice at Red Cloud High School Wednesday afternoon.


The daily grind is getting up at 4:45 am to climb boulders in the dark and stand in 27 degrees waiting for the fog to clear just enough to get your picture.

Mt. Rushmore is seen through clearing fog at sunrise from Iron Mountain road in the Black Hills in October.

The daily grind is hearing that people are keeping a copy of the newspaper in their car from that story you did on them to show other people.

The daily grind is having insightful conversations with people you’d otherwise never meet.

Maybe, the daily grind isn’t a grind at all. Maybe this job and every assignment is ultimately what you make of it. Granted, there are some assignments that will just suck no matter what you do. But you embrace them anyway. You work like hell to find that different angle; that something that will elevate a routine event into something that challenges you. Because you’re not OK with just doing OK…

I’d write more but I have a football game to go shoot.