Forgive the title, but I think to describe 2020 in any less a way would minimize just what a year this has been. We started it full of optimism for what the next decade would bring us, unaware we’d get what feels like an entire decade crammed into one tumultuous, chaotic year. You could say this year has been a roller coaster, but roller coasters are supposed to be fun. This roller coaster went off the rails, crashed into a ditch and blew up.
A virus that effectively shut down the world and has killed millions while continuing to affect the lives of countless in ways both large and small. A murder of yet another innocent African American at the hands of the police that shook the nation and ignited a Summer of protests against systemic racism. A Presidential election that lasted a week and a defeated President who continues to deny that he actually lost.
Amidst all of this we’ve lived our lives, watching endless amounts of Netflix , having countless conversations over zoom and spending time on hobbies both new and old. It’s been a time to be alive, and now that we’re at the end of the year, with vaccines beginning to be distributed and finally seeing light at the end of this long, dark tunnel, here’s a look at 2020 through my lens.
At the beginning of the year, I decided to become more involved with photographing politics, beginning with covering the Democratic Primary in South Carolina. I figured that the 2020 Presidential election would be my focus this year. Boy was I wrong!
As the virus swept the country and shutdowns sporadically began, its effects were obvious across town. Spring time is popular in DC. The temperature is warm without the oppressive humidity of Summer. Streets that would normally be filled witch college students were suddenly silent. The national mall which would normally be teeming with thousands of tourists was more empty than I’ve ever seen it. Areas of nightlife like Adams Morgan, H St NE and U Street were deserted on weekends. Despite this, it was amazing to see all of the ways that people continued to stay upbeat and show support for one another amidst social distancing, whether that was drive-by graduations, front porch concerts or group video chat happy hours. I think one silver lining is that all of us realized how important the relationships in our lives are more than ever before.
After the murder of George Floyd, protests erupted across the country, including in DC. The very first weekend saw marches throughout downtown that would end at the Northern edge of Lafayette Square, where the scene turned from tense to chaotic after the sun went down. Protesters repeatedly pressed forward against secret service and police in riot gear, only to be pushed back and scattered by volleys of tear gas, flash bangs, pepper spray and rubber bullets. The protesters would quickly regroup and return the favor with volleys of their own-plastic and glass bottles, rocks and bricks taken from the sidewalk and broken into pieces. Fireworks were thrown indiscriminately into the mix; exploding at consistent intervals throughout the night. This back and forth went on into the early morning hours that weekend. Mayor Bowser would enact a curfew that Monday (the same day President Trump tear gassed peaceful protesters so he could have his photo op) which would go largely ignored, leading to a mass arrest after police were able to corral a large group of marchers on a one way street. This would all just be the beginning of the many demonstrations to come.
Of all the things that stood out to me immediately surrounding these protests was the incredible level of diversity in the crowds. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these were the most diverse crowds I have ever seen. Black people, white people, asians, latinos, young, old. LGBTQ; people who seemed to have never been moved to join a march for black lives were now doing so in numbers never seen before. It was clear that the murder of George Floyd touched a raw nerve in the United States, not only in the black community but in areas it never has before. Even rural, mostly white areas saw their share of demonstrations, though many of them were met with counterprotests.
Amidst so much of the tumult that I felt covering the ongoing protests, photographing for the the Washington Post’s Where We Live column was a welcome respite. While it felt slightly surreal to go from photographing these protests to situations of every day life, it was a welcome reminder that in many places, life goes on as normally as it can. Kids are still kids and adults find what moments of relaxation and fun that they can. It was also nice to get away for a time to photograph things like the Neowise comet and the fall foliage that envelops West Virginia every year; a place I lived and worked and still hold very close to my heart.
Along with the hundreds of thousands who have needlessly died of Covid-19, We lost a lot of greats this year. Giants of civil rights like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and John Lewis, Entertainment icons like Alex Trebek and Chadwick Boseman. Legendary athletes like Kobe Bryant and Diego Maradona. Their deaths have consistently felt like rotten cherries on top of all that’s happened this year.
The 2020 Presidential Election was as dramatic of an election as it could possibly be. The night of the election felt like 2016 all over again, and I went to sleep assuming President Trump would be getting a second term. What followed was a week of the nation being glued to their TV’s and phones as results from mail-in ballots trickled in. Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada, Arizona. I said the names of those states in that week more than I probably have in my entire life. I was on my way out of Philadelphia when my friend called me to say the race had been called for Biden. Turning back around and heading for Independence Mall, people everywhere could be seen cheering and dancing as drivers honked their horns. I stayed for a couple hours to photograph the celebrations before heading back to DC to catch the tail end of the party at Black Lives Matter Plaza.
Predictably, President Trump has refused to accept his defeat, and has relentlessly worked to cast doubt on one of the most pivotal foundations of our democracy; the integrity of our voting process. Many in the country now genuinely believe that President-elect Biden’s victory is not a legitimate outcome, and they’ve shown themselves in DC the last month, with “Million MAGA Marches” attended by followers of President Trump across the country; including notably the Proud Boys, whom Trump tacitly endorsed with his “Stand Back & Stand By” comment during his first presidential debate with Joe Biden. Like it or not, these groups are not going away anytime soon. President Trump may soon be out of power, but he maintains a stranglehold on the Republican Party. Only time will tell how long that will last.
On a more personal note, Of all the most improbable and inexplicable things to happen to me this year, I fell in love with someone. Not only that, but with someone who currently lives on an entirely different continent. Crazy right? We both know it. But after six months of seeing and talking to each other through a screen, we’ll be spending New Years Eve together in Mexico City, and I couldn’t be more excited to leave this year behind and begin the next with her.
2020 will, for better or worse (mostly worse) be a year to remember for all of us. We’ve lived through a truly historic time, and it’s an experience none of us will forget. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for the people that I have in my life and for the experiences I have had this year. So long 2020, you can’t end soon enough.
2018 has been quite a year. It started off quietly but picked up speed with the beginning of the teachers strike, and it hasn’t really let up since. This year I had my byline in almost every major publication across the country for the first time, traveled to South America, made some important personal life steps, met so many amazing people, and had experiences that have profoundly impacted me. Looking forward to what 2019 has in store.
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.
On the road to Dryfork. Route 32. West Virginia.
Truck lights frame a house in this long exposure taken in the town of Daily along the Seneca Trail.
The John Amos power plant is seen in a long-exposure from across the Kanawha River in Poca, W.Va., on Sunday, November 26, 2017.
WVA Manufacturing. Alloy, W.V.
Night over Gauley Bridge, W.V.
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.
Lights from a house are illuminated in fog that blankets the road ahead under a starry sky in rural West Virginia
Hawks Nest Overlook.
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.
Star trails swirl around Polaris, the North Star, in this hour-long exposure at Calhoun County Park outside of Grantsville, West Virginia;
Summersville Dam & Gauley River.
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.
in Charleston, W.Va., on Thursday, October 22, 2017.
at Dolly Sods on Sunday, September 24, 2017.
in Charleston, W.Va., on Thursday, October 22, 2017.
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.
Prestera counselor Sue Howland hugs longtime friend Dawn Streets after having recognized her in Huntington, W.V., on Thursday, April 19, 2018.
Larrecsa Cox of Cabell County EMS lookes over clients that the QRT will visit that day as she sits inside the QRT office of the Cabell County Emergency Service building in Huntington, W.V., on Thursday, April 19, 2018.
Connie Priddy, coordinator of the Quick Response Team stands in the doorway of the QRT office of the Cabell County Emergency Service building in Huntington, W.V., on Thursday, April 19, 2018.
Camp Director Dave Hurd speaks with a colleague before the evening sermon at Shenandoah Family camp in Culloden, W.V. on Thursday, August 02, 2018.
Curator Roger May is seen in the apartment earth art gallery in Charleston, W.V. on Wednesday, August 08, 2018.
From left, Brenden Hosten, Dylan Buckley, Jackson Stanley, Lauren Ballard, Zane Justice and Zamiyah Brooks present their project-based-learning (PBL) showcase on Hydroelectricity inside Mrs. Nesius’s 5th grade classroom at Kenna Elementary School in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, May 29, 2018
Dr. Gabriel Al-Hajj poses for a portrait in his office in South Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, April 24, 2018.
Brianna, Ruth Kelly, Isaac and Kachina have a moment together before sampling the day’s specials at the Fruits Of Labor Cafe in Rainelle, W.V., on Friday, April 13, 2018.
Executive Chef Roy Lynch speaks with a reporter at the Fruits Of Labor Cafe in Rainelle, W.V., on Friday, April 13, 2018.
Sophie Fatu, professional cute kid, poses for a portrait in Charleston, W.V., on Friday, March 09, 2018.
Paul, right, laughs as Gary pretends to tie him to his cart outside of the Charleston Men’s Emergency Shelter in Charleston, W.Va., on Wednesday night, December 13, 2017.
Hurricane High School Redskins celebrate their victory over Wheeling Park High School in the Class AAA state baseball championship at Power Park in Charleston, W.V., on Saturday, June 02, 2018
Mike Pushkin (D – Kanawha, 37) poses for a portrait with his taxicab outside of the State Capitol building in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, April 24, 2018.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, state health officer and commissioner for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau, poses for a portrait in his office in downtown Charleston, W.V., on Monday, April 16, 2018.
John Berta of Oceana in Wyoming County, W.Va, shows off his mining helmet before President Trump takes the stage at a rally in support of the Senate candidacy of Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, Monday, Aug. 21, 2018, at the Charleston Civic Center in Charleston, W.Va. Berta worked as a coal miner for 36 years.
Kylie Robinson, forefront, covers her ears as police cars wail their sirens during the third, “Operation Citation” at the Dunbar United Methodist Church in Dunbar, W.Va., on Tuesday, November 28, 2017. Created by the Charleston Police Department Traffic Division, ‚”Operation Citation” honored four Girl Scouts this evening.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice criticizes an article by the Charleston Gazette-Mail while holding a copy of the newspaper during a rally by President Trump in support of the Senate candidacy of Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, Monday, Aug. 21, 2018, at the Charleston Civic Center in Charleston, W.Va.
West Virginia State Senator Richard N. Ojeda II (D – Logan, 07) poses for a portrait in Logan, W.V., on Thursday, February 22, 2018. Ojeda is seeking the democratic nomination to run for the 3rd congressional district.
Fiddler apprentice Jen Iskow and fiddler master John Morris play a song together inside John’s home in Ivydale, W.V., on Monday, July 30, 2018.
Herbalist apprentice Kara Vaneck follows herbalist master Maron Harless around Maron’s garden outside of Elkins, W.V., on Monday, July 30, 2018.
Dyer Stanard, who participated in the invasion of Normandy and other strategic campaigns of World War II, poses alongside his medals, pictures, patches and other memorabilia inside his garage in Hurricane, W.V., on Wednesday, July 11, 2018.
West Virginia Sons of the American Revolution Association members Zach Mason, left, and Bob Grumbling, respectively dressed as a soldier of the 7th Virginia Militia and as a soldier of the Westmoreland County Pennsylvania Militia, pose for a portrait on West Virginia day outside of the Culture Center in Charleston, W.V., on Wednesday, June 20, 2018.
From left, Joel Mckinney, his mother Linda Mckinney and his wife Melissa Clark speak with a reporter inside Five Loaves & Two Fishes Food Bank in Kimball, W.V., on Tuesday, March 27, 2018.
Chelsea Carter, a former addict who is now a program director and addiction counselor at Appalachian Health Services, is seen in her office in Logan, W.Va., on Friday, January 26, 2018.
Owner, baker and stylist Linda Javins laughs while on the phone inside Guy’s Cut-N-Shave along Midway Road in Yawkey, W.V., on Friday, March 23, 2018.
Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader embraces Andrea Harrison, a recovering addict during a panel discussion at the University of Charleston in Charleston , W.V., on Thursday, February 15, 2018 after a screening of Sheldon’s Oscar-nominated documentary “Heroin (e)” which focuses on three women dealing with the drug crisis in Huntington. Harrison who thanked the Huntington fire department for providing Naloxone.
Rafael Barker poses for a portrait outside of Underground Cinema in Charleston, W.Va., on Friday, December 08, 2017.
A man walks down Capitol street amidst a squall in Charleston, W.Va., on Tuesday, December 12, 2017.
Bud Sears rocks a baby inside the NICU of Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston, W.V., on November 06, 2017.
Johnny “Tarzan” Copley of Salt Lake City base jumps while dressed as a unicorn during the 40th annual Bridge Day on the New River Gorge bridge in Fayetteville, W.V., on Saturday, October 21, 2017.
Employee Scott Mckenzie is seen inside Appalachian Cannabis Company in Cross Lanes, W.V., on Thursday, August 31, 2017.
Malyka Knapp-Smith gives a hi-five to Asmael Saifo of Syria during her English as a Second Language class at the Garnet Career Center in Charleston on Monday, August 28, 2017.
Hurricane fans crowd the stands during the Hurricane Redskins-Winfield Generals football game at Hurricane High School on Friday, August 25, 2017.
CRAIG HUDSON | Gazette-Mail Cheryl Laws speaks about her plans for Cafe Appalachia inside the former St. John United Methodist Church as her daughter Sydney Atkins looks on in South Charleston, W.V., on Friday, August 18, 2017.
CRAIG HUDSON | Gazette-Mail 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.
CRAIG HUDSON | Gazette-Mail Carol Bellamy, right, and Cickie Cox make chili dogs before the nigh’t festivities in Iaeger, W.V., on Tuesday, August 01, 2017.
CRAIG HUDSON | Gazette-Mail Nada White and Joseph Miller sort through orders at a farmer’s market outside of the Cabin Creek Health Center in Dawes , W.V., on Thursday, July 27, 2017.
Captain Mark Strickland drives on patrol in Charleston on July 26, 2017.
CRAIG HUDSON | Gazette-Mail Eli Hamilton, 7, jumps into the Elk River as his grandfather don watches on Thursday, July 20, 2017.
CRAIG HUDSON | Gazette-Mail Anjeanette Spencer of Columbus OH hoists up her fish as her aunt Catherine Saunders continues to cast her line at Kanawha Falls outside of Glen Ferris, W.V., on Wednesday, July 19, 2017.
CRAIG HUDSON | Gazette-Mail Lois Vance and Mary Aldred-Crouch share a laugh at the Kanawha City Health Center, a branch of Cabin Creek Health Systems in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, July 11, 2017.
CRAIG HUDSON | Gazette-Mail 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.
Visitors line the street and yard of the famous Kenova Pumpkin House in Kenova, W.V., on Halloween night, October 31, 2017.
Mary Kathren Robinson, longtime Administrator for the Hubbard Hospice House in Charleston, W.V., pauses in front of the memory tree, which is filled with the names of those who have passed on in the care of the hospice house.
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!
Hey everyone. Long time no talk. Sorry I’ve been away for awhile. I’ve been meaning to start writing again. A lot has happened in the past couple months. At the beginning of February it was announced that our paper was declaring bankruptcy in order to be sold; and that wasn’t even the worst part. Our buyer was to be a company that was well known for having a penchant to slash newsroom staffs; often by dramatic numbers. None of us had much hope for keeping our jobs, the only upshot to the whole situation was that the process was to take relatively two months to complete; with the final auction being held sometime in later March. Meanwhile we still had a job to do.
I spent the first half of the month mostly shooting high school basketball; the notable exceptions being groups of teachers were staging throughout the state along highways and busy street corners. I knew almost nothing about the various issues facing teachers in West Virginia; that wouldn’t last for long.
West Virginia has long suffered from a debilitating brain drain, as workers can often make substantially more money doing the very same job in a neighboring state than they can in West Virginia. Teachers are no exception. When it comes to teacher pay, West Virginia ranks 48th in the nation; second only to Mississippi and Oklahoma, where teachers are now staging their own statewide walkout. As one teacher from a group who came from the Eastern Panhandle told me, “I can drive 20 minutes North and make $20,000 dollars more per year than I do right now, or I can drive 40 minutes South and make $27,000 dollars more”. While it’s true that the average teacher’s salary is higher than the average income of most West Virginians, it’s often still not enough to raise their families and pay off student loan debt accumulated to get the necessary credentials to teach, forcing teachers to take a second job to make ends meet. So for many of the teachers that I talked to, the money was less an end in itself than a means to continue doing what they really wanted; to do their part for their communities in educating the next generation of West Virginians.
Teachers and school personnel were also striking for a longer term solution to their insurance plans under the control of PEIA’s (Public Employee Insurance Agency) Finance Board. As reported by the Gazette-Mail’s statehouse reporter Phil Kabler a few weeks ago, “In December, the PEIA Finance Board approved changes in the 2018-19 plan that would have cut benefits and raised premiums by a total of $29 million — primarily through significant premium increases for family and for employee and spouse coverage for most insurees.” While the Governor froze premiums for the coming year, the measure was deemed inefficient as it offered only a temporary solution to the issues of funding that have plagued the agency for years. Because PEIA affected all other public employees who were not permitted to walkout, the striking teachers and school personnel insisted that they weren’t just striking for themselves but for all public employees in their efforts to stabilize the agency. As it stands, a special task force ordered by the Governor in the midst of the strike has been assembled to address the issues.
One of the things that admittedly took me by surprise was just how many of the people I spoke with were not merely supporters of the strike but actual teachers or other important school personnel; cooks, bus drivers, librarians, etc. I’ve been to a lot of rallies and protests, but I don’t think i’ve ever been to a demonstration that was almost exclusively made up of the very people the topic of protest was about; and in such huge numbers. On top of that, none of the people I spoke with hesitated when I asked for more than just heir name. In fact they were proud to mention their position, their school and their county; even continuing to do so after they had temporarily lost their legal protection when their Union leaders called the strike off. Hell, hundreds of them wore red shirts with the names of their respective counties like they were team jerseys.
Another thing I loved was that despite the seriousness of the issues, there was no shortage of creative signs, costumes and lighthearted moments along the sidelines and halls of the Capitol. For me, those quiet moments that happen while everyone else’s attention is elsewhere can often say just as much if not even more than the loudest ones.
I shot the strike for as many days and as much time as I could. Because of our paper’s connection to the AP my images started appearing all over the place; major newspapers, some networks and even an appearance on Late Night with Seth Myers, haha. It was a strange combination of emotions; feeling the most successful and fulfilled that I’d felt in years, all the while not knowing if I would have a job at the end of the month. The truth is I had convinced myself I was going to lose it, so I went about my work assuming it would be the last big assignment I’d be doing for the Gazette-Mail. Thankfully that didn’t turn out to be the case, but it motivated me at the time to get as much work as I could out there. I finished out the rest of the month shooting as best as I could for the assignments I had. Last Monday was the day we were supposed to find out if we were staying or leaving, with sealed letters placed on each of our desks to let us know if we’d get a rose or not. I had my editor open mine up, and thankfully most of us in the newsroom stayed on board. We did take some bad losses though, especially the loss of our executive editor Rob Byers, who’d dedicated himself since joining the paper straight out of college to keeping it as successful and important as it has been for West Virginia. Things are still calming down here, but I’m happy to say that at least for now, I can look past the date of March 31 and start moving forward on some stories I want to do and really dive into this state now that Spring is upon us!
If you just want to look at pictures, scroll down.
For me, I look back on three important things this year. Experiencing the landscape of the West, becoming an honorary West Virginian, and the further embracing of my visual style. The first one happened rather unintentionally. While I had explored the surrounding region of the Black Hills and Badlands to a certain extent, my work hours prevented me from venturing too far out. Once I got over the initial shock of being laid off I began thinking of all the places I’d been meaning to go to. In those few months I made my way to Montana, Eastern Idaho, Western Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and other closer but still important areas. I still struggle to describe the feelings invoked by the landscape there, everything from its vastness to how light seems to dance across it. I think about that land often and wish I could go back there even for a short time. It never felt like I was in just another part of the states, rather it truly felt like a world unto itself.
Eventually, after being unemployed for four months and living off of my severance, unemployment insurance and tax returns, I moved back to DC and took back my old job at ProPhoto and applied for jobs while crashing at my best friend’s place. On a facebook job page, I saw an opening for a staff photography position at the Gazette-Mail in Charleston; West Virginia’s capital and largest city. With the exception of Harper’s Ferry and a night trip to Shepherdstown, I had never stepped foot in West Virginia. However, I have always been interested in places that hold ideas and assumptions in the American psyche; places that everyone seems to have an opinion about without ever really having been there. Since taking the job nearly six months ago, I have visited many areas of the state and gotten to know the people who call this place home. I can thankfully say that i’ve only come to enjoy this place more as time has gone on. Yes, West Virginia has plenty of problems and issues it has yet to overcome, but this place has plenty of good in it too, and a lot of people who care deeply for its future.
Lastly, and what has personally meant the most to me, has been the overwhelmingly positive response I have received from people here regarding my more artistic images; specifically my long exposures. Long exposures were the very thing that made me fall in love with photography in the first place; a creative method that could take a scene or moment in front of you and reveal so much more than our immediate senses could perceive. Admittedly, it had been a long time since I had regularly taken long exposures (one of my biggest regrets this year being that I didn’t take nearly as many long exposures in South Dakota as I should have). I decided to take it up again as a means of showing West Virginia from a different take, and the amount of enthusiasm with which my paper has embraced those kinds of images coupled with the responses I have received from others have motivated the hell out of me to shoot, shoot and shoot more. It’s been awhile since i’ve felt so compeltely energized, and I think great things are around the corner for 2018.
So here are, in no particular order, my favorite images from 2017.
I’m about a week or so away from hitting the 6-month mark of my time in West Virginia, and I think November has been the first month where i’ve started getting a grasp on this state and no longer feel like an outsider. I’ve been here long enough now to already have made some good memories and long enough to decorate my desk! That being said, November was also a good month for photos. I think I’ve shot more sports (football, soccer, basketball) in the last month or two than I have for the past 12 months combined, but I’ve also shot a decent amount of other subjects. This month I started incorporating single or multiple on-location lighting setups and hope to use them to better effect this coming month. Considering how dark it’s going to be I’m sure I’ll find a time to. Lastly, If you know me even a little, you know how passionate I am about long exposures, and i’ve been blown away by the overwhelmingly positive responses i’ve recieved from people regarding my long exposures for the Gazette-Mail. The photos that have been published so far have been photos taken on my own time for the fun of it, and to know that the publication i’m working for appreciates and embraces the use of those images means a lot. One other thing i’ll mention that was great this month was I got to volunteer at the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar. I’d like to thank Kevin, Ted, Michael and all the others who’ve been incredibly kind to me and made my time volunteering there a great experience.
This guide was created in google slides, but I was very unsatisfied with how the slides were presented here when I embedded it in the post itself (you couldn’t even make the presentation full screen!) so I simply exported the guide as a PDF that I have linked below for you to view or download as you please. I hope this guide of San Francisco will be of some use to you. Enjoy!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
This was back when the Occupy Movement was happening. The campers had just put up the “occubarn” in the early morning.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Shaan Sakaria, left, and Shriram Gangineni look on as the kids fashion show progresses during Diwali Night at the School of Mines on Saturday evening.
A group of dancers perform the Dandiya, a regional folk dance of India during Diwali Night at the School of Mines on Saturday evening.
Spectators watch a fireworks display during Diwali Night at the School of Mines on Saturday evening.
Berlinn Farner, 3, was one of many children who attended the 35th annual Harvest Meals for YFS’ Child Development Center and Girls Inc. of Rapid City programs.
Guard Jamall Taylor tries to maneuver during the Hardrockers match against Grace University at King Center on Friday evening.
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…
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.
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.
From right, David, Laura and Mathew Scott wait in line with others to get into Storyteller Bookshop during Scare in the Square in downtown Rapid City on Saturday afternoon. The couple and their son were representing all three Star Wars trilogies.
Wesley Delaney and Leighton Aves, both 9, count their candy during Scare in the Square in downtown Rapid City on Saturday afternoon.
And what is the daily grind?
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.
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.
The daily grind is a person at a podium.
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.
It doesn’t work.
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.
lines up snow boards in preparation for the Black Hills Ski for Light Ski Swap which will take place Saturday at Rushmore Civic Center. The swap is a fund raiser for the annual event that gives a day of skiing to impaired children and adults.
School donor Bob Malone of Texas greets a line of students, faculty and supporters of the Tiospaye Center for American Indian Scholars at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, which was expanded after a generous donation by the family of Maria “Agnes” Roybal Trujillo.
The daily grind is two more high school volleyball games.
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.
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.