Advice for Aspiring Photojournalists: Part II

Advice for Aspiring Photojournalists: Part II

Four years ago, I put out my first post for aspiring photojournalists. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time, and I was both humbled and grateful to see the post shared by many and to hear from those who messaged me their appreciation for the things I had to say. A lot has happened since then, and I wanted to share what other pieces of advice that I have learned over the last four years; as well as some things I left out in my previous post. As with the last one, It’s my hope that something I’ve written here is of some help or encouragement. 

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There’s more than one way into a building than the front door. 

While some conventional avenues remain, there’s no real “path” in this industry. It’s not like becoming a doctor or a lawyer in which you go to law or medical school, do a residency or make the bar and then bam, you’re a lawyer or a doctor. Ask anyone whose working in this industry how they got to where they are, and most likely you’ll hear a different story every time.

I first got my start with the Washington Post when I was photographing the emerging “Occupy Wall St” protests that were spreading across the country- including Washington DC. I sold my first photo to the Post in late 2011 after a few protesters were injured by a car, and would continue to send in images until finally I was given my first formal assignment; covering the camp on a night some believed the camp would be taken down by park police. Shortly after however, the camp was finally removed, and essentially all contact with the Post had stopped. I wanted to continue making the connections I was making, but knew I wasn’t at a professional level that I could apply for an internship with them or expect calls for other assignments. I asked my college professor at the time Bob Reeder, who was a former staff photographer at the Post, for his advice. On my behalf he sent off an email to then-DOP Michel du Cille, who suggested that I apply for a position as a newsroom copy aide-which I did shortly after. I eventually received a callback once an opening occurred, and began working there in June 2012. I worked as a copy aide for almost two years; sorting mail, delivering morning papers to the various news desks, keeping the newsroom printers stocked and other various basic tasks. In short, it was the most entry level position possible at the paper. But through that job I was able to get a true glimpse of how newsrooms operated and get to know the photographers, reporters and editors on a face-to-face basis, and soon, I began receiving assignments from various desks for everything from covering the opening of bars and Batalá performers to Local Living profiles and the annual doggy day swim in DC’s public pools. It’s unlikely that I would have ever had the amount of opportunities that I did with the Post had I not worked there initially as a copy aide.

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Understand what you’re getting into.

While I am no less hopeful over the future of photojournalism, it isn’t easy. It’s important to accept the possibility of taking a job in this field only to find yourself out of one within a year. While I now work as a freelancer, I have worked as a staffer for two newspapers, and was laid off from both. The newspaper industry has been shrinking for many years now, and while the largest publications will most likely continue to survive, local news outlets will continue to suffer layoffs and consolidation into the future. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities. There are still groups across social media such as Facebook that continue to post up new job opportunities and internships every way. Despite the beating that the industry has taken over the last couple decades, there are STILL ways to make it work. 

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There’s no shame in having a day job or doing side gigs.

Because of this reality, there aren’t many photojournalists left that can still make a living completely off of purely editorial work. Many supplement their income with commercial work such as events, weddings, corporate headshots, assisting other photographers, teaching classes or conducting workshops. While some get lucky, it takes a lot of time to reach a point of total self sufficiency through freelance-and that’s okay! Doing whatever you can to get to that point doesn’t make you any less of a photojournalist in any way. You’re a photojournalist whether you work every day, once a week or once a month. The time between each assignment doesn’t detract from your skills and experience.  I’ve been a photojournalist for over ten years, and it’s only been in the last six months that I’ve made it to the point that I can work as a freelancer full-time. While doing all the freelance jobs I could for the Washington Post from 2012-2014, I was working in their newsroom as a copy aide. When I returned to DC from my internship with the San Francisco Chronicle, I eventually took a job at my favorite camera shop ProPhoto in 2015, and worked there while doing whatever assisting and other commercial gigs that I could until I moved to take a staff position at the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota in 2016, and in 2017, the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia. When I was laid off from the Gazette-Mail in 2019, I moved back to DC and returned to work at ProPhoto to pay my rent and other bills while slowly getting back into freelancing until being furloughed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through a mix of unemployment insurance and the steadily increasing amount of freelance work I received throughout the dumpster fire of a year that was 2020, I was able to stay on my feet. It’s only this year that I’ve finally been able to make the jump to full time freelance, and I still take on all the side gigs I can. 

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Place yourself in an area that isn’t already saturated with media.

Working in smaller markets will often give you vital experience in the abc’s of being a working photojournalist, as well as grant you a perspective of areas of the country that you may not have had before working solely in major cities. Additionally, There is a stereotype that to be successful one should be in a major metropolitan area. That may have been the case before the age of social media, when the range of how far local stories would travel typically went as far as the local daily’s circulation. This is no longer the case. I was in South Dakota as the Dakota Access Pipeline protest in neighboring North Dakota  was at its peak; a story unfolding as far away as can be from any major metro area. I often wonder if that story would have become as big as it did had it occurred over 20 years ago before social media made it possible to see things happening in real time from every corner of the planet. And about 8 months into my time at the Charleston Gazette-Mail in the Spring of 2018, teachers and school personnel across all 55 counties of West Virginia went on a statewide strike. The state capitol was teeming with striking teachers and school personnel pressuring state legislators and the governor to meet their demands. Their eventual success was the beginning of a wave of education strikes that would spread across the nation.  As a staffer for the local paper, I did everything to cover it as best as I could, and because my apartment was directly across the street from the state capitol, I was often there past my daily work schedule. 

Like many other newspapers, the Charleston Gazette-Mail had a contract for sharing content with wire services-in our case, the Associated Press. Because of this, my work was immediately distributed all over the place-landing in many of the nation’s major publications both online and in print. I’m quite sure that my images would never had had that level of use across media outlets if such a major news event were to happen in a media-saturated region like, New York, Washington DC or California. I’d just be another contributor in a very large pool of shooters, and so the amount of my work distributed would be drastically diluted simply by the amount of other content provided by others. It’s because I was providing images on a daily basis from an area in which there were so few photographers that my work was so widely distributed, and it was also as this was happening that I started hearing from publications that I had never worked for, such as Politico Magazine, Huffpost, AP and ProPublica

Publications will hire freelancers especially in areas that are typically outside of their range, as the cost of hiring a freelancer is typically lower than the cost of expenses of sending one of their own staffers. If you find yourself in the interview process for a staff position, make a point of finding out whether or not you will have the ability to do freelance work for other outlets while still working your staff position. I deeply value the fact that my paper allowed me to do so.  

Lastly, I’m grateful for my time in West Virginia because of the many things that it taught me. Among other things that there’s far more to a place than mere first impressions or what you may have heard from someone else, which is why it’s so important that local news outlets continue to provide the vital coverage that they do in these areas. The things that happen in small communities are no less deserving of our attention and efforts than those in larger ones. Media is an ecosystem, and much of what eventually reaches the headlines of major outlets begin life as a headline in a local paper after a lot of digging by journalists working in their own communities daily. You may not know their names, but we all benefit from their work. 

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Know what to ask when you have that interview. 

It’s important that you have questions ready for the editors if given the opportunity of an interview. This will save you time and misunderstandings later. For example, While I was still at my paper in South Dakota in 2016, I decided to accompany another reporter to cover the ongoing Dakota Access Pipeline protest in North Dakota-while I was off the clock. Unfortunately, this act was not received well by the paper itself, and subsequently upon my return I was told that, for various reasons, no photos that I took while off the clock would ever be published in the paper.  Because this was a fundamental issue for me, I realized that I should have discussed this with the paper prior to being hired. In any case, I made sure to put this question to the editors in my interview with what would become my next paper in West Virginia. And again I repeat- ask whether or not there is a clause in the hiring contract against working on assignment for other publications-as is common with certain publishers. 

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Don’t  be afraid to say no.

Given the state of the industry, a lot of us may feel tempted to accept a job or internship in a place we don’t want to be. When every job or internship seems to have a host of applicants, the idea that someone might choose to refuse a solid opportunity anyway may seem strange.

In 2016 after graduating college I applied for and was eventually offered a six month internship at an MLIVE publication in Michigan. For various reasons, I changed my mind and turned down. Since then, I’ve now seen other people take on stints at that location who have done a fantastic job; making great work and learning a lot. I have the feeling that my path would have taken a very different turn had I chosen it. However, there were factors at play in my life at the time that ultimately led me to choose to not do it. It wasn’t an easy decision, and it’s one that I admittedly felt quite a bit of guilt for after the fact. In an industry in which many opportunities are fleeting with many people vying for each one, it almost feels downright arrogant to turn one down. 

But If something isn’t for you, then it isn’t for you. It’s better that that opportunity go to someone who really wants it vs someone lukewarm about it. Regardless of how dire the overall situation of the industry may appear at times, new opportunities still arise. Had I taken that position, I never would have moved to South Dakota to work at the Rapid City Journal; nor would I have had the experiences I had or made the friendships I made as a consequence. It could have been that once the internship ended that I immediately took on another internship or position elsewhere, perhaps ensuring that I would never have applied to the position at the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia, and subsequently, arrived back in DC as I did. 

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Getting the shot is only part of it. 

You can be doing this for over 10 years, and still make basic mistakes-the misplaced card reader, the memory card that you forgot to format, the low battery you forgot to recharge or forgetting to clean the dust spots off your sensor that show up in a published photo. Mistakes will be made, and it’s important to do everything that you can to prepare and ensure that they happen as seldom as possible. I may have learned to be consistent and minimize the number of times they happen, but I admittedly only learned how to do things consistently right by consistently doing them all wrong first. Missed deadlines, caption mistakes, arriving late-you can be the best photojournalist in the world, but none of that matters if you can’t get in the photos on time or place the wrong name to someone’s face in a photo caption one too many times. Do it once and you may get an earful from a disgruntled editor, do it more times and you may not get called back for another assignment. The details and little things add up, and matter just as much as the photos you actually take. Arrive early whenever possible to both allow yourself time to get familiar with the setting, and to find good people that you can not only make images of but offer to the reporter as sources if you’re working with one. For editing quickly and submitting; image presets in camera raw, as well as metadata templates for your images and setting up code replacements in Photomechanic beforehand will save you a lot of time-especially when working assignments like sports. Make it a routine to unpack your cameras, place your batteries in chargers and format your memory cards once you’re done at the end of each assignment. Creating for yourself a consistent workflow is one of the best things that you can do for yourself and ensure you keep getting called back for that next assignment.

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Pitching stories: Inspiration comes from all kinds of places. 

I want to write a post dedicated just to pitching, but it’s worth writing a small section about here for now. For most of my career thus far, pitching stories was something I was terrible at. As much as I loved reading them, I couldn’t come up with my own to save my life. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve realized that a lot fo times, story ideas can come from many places; whether that’s passing by something interesting and taking a moment to walk up and ask some questions, or even from just some google searches at home.

As an example, last year in Spring 2020, I was looking for places where I could go and take some nice landscape photos outside of DC. On one of my searches I just happened to come across Tangier Island, VA; a small, constantly receding island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay; home to a small community of watermen who still made their living off of their catches in the Chesapeake. Tourism accounted for the rest of the Island’s income-which was at that time completely frozen with all tourism ferries halting operations and the local businesses that catered to such tourists closed down. After doing a little more reading, it was easy to see why. With such a tight-nit community; one with many older folks particularly vulnerable to the virus, an outbreak on the island could’ve potentially had dire consequences. As there was an ongoing debate about balancing public safety with keeping the economy afloat, I thought that Tangier’s situation could serve as an example of how certain communities are approaching the pandemic. I pitched it around to various outlets before eventually pitching it to the DOP at HuffPost, who was happy to pick up the story. I ended up staying two days on the island making photos and subsequently helped co-write the feature piece.

What started as me just looking for places to escape to turned into a successfully pitched and executed story. Just as I had mentioned in my previous post of looking to your other photographic interests to inform how you approach your style of photojournalism, look inward to what other interests outside of photojournalism you may have to help inform and serve the stories that you may ultimately pitch. 

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Trust the Process: Don’t be discouraged or lose hope when life takes a turn that sets you back.

I laid this out more in detail in a previous post, but It’s worth writing about here as well. In the summer of 2014 I was riding high-at least I thought so. I had spent the last two years freelancing for the Washington Post, had attended the Eddie Adams Workshop, and had just finished an internship with the San Francisco Chronicle-all by the age of 21. But while things may have looked good for me on paper, I was personally spiraling downward. I had only just finished my internship when I was arrested and convicted for drunk driving. 

The damage I did to myself and my career was undeniable. For over a year I had no drivers license. My freelance work dried up completely by the time I got back to DC, and rather than working at another paper as I had hoped to do the following summer of 2015, I was instead being driven by my parents to community service and the DMV to do group classes and counseling in order to get my license back. Even after getting it back, the damage I inflicted on myself continued to show. A year later upon finishing college I was accepted to an internship at a paper in Ohio, only to have the acceptance rescinded a few weeks before I moved there-the paper’s HR citing my DUI arrest as grounds for doing so. I then applied to an internship at a paper in Virginia, and was told shortly after that, while I was their first choice, they would ultimately have to refuse for the same reason. I felt absolutely helpless about my situation, and, given that I had now graduated and was facing the prospect of soon not being eligible for most internships due to no longer being a student, I was desperate. Around this time, I heard back from the editor who would eventually be my boss at the Rapid City Journal. I had applied to a staff position there a short while ago before being told that they had enacted a hiring freeze, and the editor was messaging me to let me know that the freeze had ended, and to ask if I was still interested in the position. I told him that I was, but was also upfront about my recent history in order to spare myself another protracted rejection should it prove disqualifying. Thankfully, because that was the only offense on my record, I was told I would still be eligible, and soon after I moved to South Dakota in late 2016 to take the job. While I was only there for four months before being laid off, it gave me the opportunity to press a reset on my career after more than two years of no freelance work whatsoever, set me up to take my staff position in West Virginia and ultimately, be where I am today. 

I share all of this because life is never a straight line. There are highs and lows, and sometimes, the lows are so deep that you may come to doubt whether or not you’ll ever be able to overcome them. But I promise you, for however long it may take, you WILL overcome them. There was a gap of five and a half years between my last freelance assignment I did in DC and my first upon returning in fall of 2019. Two years later, I’m grateful to be in a very different place career wise.

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The most important people you can get to know are your fellow photogs. 

While it is important to network and get yourself on the radar of editors you may want to work for, the majority of new clients I have ever received were a direct result of another photographer that I know recommending me when they themselves were unable to do whatever assignment the editor called them about. This is a community, and it’s to your benefit and the benefit of those you associate with to work together as often as possible. Not only because doing so will be helpful to your career in the long-term, but even more so because we are a community of some really talented and wonderful people. I’m grateful for the many friends I’ve made throughout my career thus far. So what are some ways that you can go about doing that? 

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Workshops, Seminars and Portfolio Reviews.

The thing that makes workshops great aren’t the speakers, the lessons or even the portfolio reviews; helpful as they may be. It’s the opportunity to meet people who are in the same boat as you are; either just starting out and unsure as to how to move forward or someone whose reached a plateau in their career. There are a number of great workshops and seminars that happen every year, whether that’s NPPA’s Northern Short Course, the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar, The Missouri Photo Workshop, The Mountain Workshop, The Eddie Adams Workshop, The Image Deconstructed Workshop, or WPOW’s annual portfolio review in Washington DC. I’ve attended all but the Mountain Workshop at least once, and each time I came away not only with new knowledge and valuable insight into my own work through reviews, but also with new friends-fellow photogs who are also doing everything they can to navigate this industry and be part of it all. 

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There will be ups and downs, and that’s okay!

No matter what level you’re at, inevitably you’re going to go through periods of having lots of work to having little to none at all. It happens to all of us, and there’s nothing abnormal about it. Nonetheless, the more days that pass by without any phone calls, that feeling of imposter syndrome may grow a little bit more and more. I promise you that another phone call is coming, and it’s going to pass. It always does at some point. 

If you’ve made it to the end of this post, I thank you for taking the time to read it. I hope that there is something in it that has been helpful in some way to you. I Intend to write another one soon dealing more directly with tackling assignments themselves geared more towards those just starting out, and I’m looking forward to that. 

Craig H

2020. What a F*cking Year.

2020. What a F*cking Year.

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.

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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.

2019: A Year In Review.

2019: A Year In Review.

It’s been a long time since I wrote anything for my blog. Last time I put up a post was a review of 2018 in photos from my desk in my apartment in Charleston. Now I’m writing this from the same desk in my apartment in DC. Because of how long it’s been, I thought I’d write a couple things outlining what’s happened.

When I wrote my last post I was entering my second year as a staff photographer for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. I was proud of the work I’d done the previous year and was looking forward to the possibilities of the next. A little more than halfway through the year I was told I was being let go. There’s no way around the fact that being laid off is deeply painful and debilitating, especially given our tendency as photojournalists to bind so much of our identity in the work we do. Even though I wasn’t planning to spend the rest of my 20’s in West Virginia, it was still a shock to me when it happened. Still, I felt that, unlike my abrupt layoff from the Journal in Rapid City, I had made a pretty good run of my time at the Gazette-Mail, and was able to walk away with my head held high and a heart full of gratitude for the experiences I had.

West Virginia will grow on you. Even though I don’t live there anymore, I still use the personal pronouns “we” and “our” whenever talking about the state. For some reason it doesn’t feel right to use past tense yet. Maybe it’s because West Virginia is a lot closer to DC than South Dakota is, but then again, while I genuinely valued my time in South Dakota, I wasn’t really there long enough to connect with the state as profoundly as I did with West Virginia. I believe that you leave a piece of yourself everywhere you live, and there will always be a big piece of myself somewhere in the Kanawha Valley or atop the boulders of Dolly Sods. I’ve been working on and off on a post about the many different awesome places the state has, and I hope to put that out at some point (among my New Years resolutions being to post more often) To be sure, the state still has a long way to go in freeing itself from the limitations of an economy largely dependent upon revenue from outside exploitation of its resources and its people. That said, there truly are many West Virginians, young and old, who are working hard to make that happen, and I’m proud to know them and call some of them my friends.

It’s also true that going through such a shakeup puts in sharper focus the things that are most important to you. I’ve really come to value, more than at almost any other time in my life, the importance of maintaining friendships and relationships with others; family and otherwise. After having spent so much of my life largely being out of touch with myself and others, it’s been quite a journey to arrive at the headspace I’m in now. That desire to listen to my own desires outside of my career played no small part in my decision to move back to DC. I told myself after being laid off that wherever I moved next, it needed to be a place that I actually wanted to live, not just for whatever job I was doing. I thought of every possibility, but again and again my thoughts came back to one place; DC. It’s not only where I went to college and got my start in photojournalism, but where I became the person that I am now. And for the majority of the six years I spent living here from 2010 to 2016, I didn’t appreciate it nearly as much as I do now. I wanted to re-experience the city with that newfound appreciation, and I can’t say enough how happy I am to have made the choice to return.

There are a lot of things that happened this year that I’m proud of. I attended the Missouri photo workshop, something that had been a little dream of mine since starting out as a photojournalist. I did my first assignment for The Washington Post again after five years. I’ve made plenty of new friends, have struggled at times and grown from those experiences in a lot of ways for which I’m thankful.

Some folks on social media have gone beyond a year in review to do a decade in review. Ten years ago I was 5 months away from graduating high school and a few months more from moving across the country. I can’t imagine the person I’d be if I had stayed in California, and I’m so grateful to have had all of the experiences, good and bad, that have shaped me through the years since. Here’s to 2020 and another decade of growth and self discovery.

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2018: The Year in Pictures

2018: The Year in Pictures

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.

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Thousands braved cold temperatures and sustained rainfall to attend a Statewide Day of Action rally on the south steps of the Capitol building in Charleston, W.V., on Friday, February 17, 2018. The rally was done in support of education and public employees in their struggle for competitive pay and benefits.

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Governor Jim Justice stands up to leave a press conference at the capitol building on the fourth day of statewide walkouts in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, February 27, 2018.

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Jennyerin Steele Staats, a special education teacher from Jackson County holds her sign aloft outside of the capitol building after WVEA President Dale Lee outlined the terms for ending the walkout on the fourth day of statewide walkouts in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, February 27, 2018.

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Thousands of teachers and school personnel fill the capitol building in Charleston, W.V., on Monday, March 05, 2018; the eighth day of statewide school closures.

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Kristen Kief of Jefferson County wears bunny ears, an emblem of the ongoing teacher strike at the capitol in Charleston, W.V., on Monday, March 05, 2018; the eighth day of statewide school closures.

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School personnel leave the Capitol grounds after WVEA President Dale Lee outlined the terms for ending the walkout at the capitol building on the fourth day of statewide walkouts in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, February 27, 2018.

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From right, Wyoming County’s Mullens Elementary school teachers Kara Brown, Katherine Dudley and Nina Tunstalle, along with Lois Casto of Central Elementary school in St. Albans, react to news of a deal reached between the House and Senate for a 5% across the board increase for state workers at the capitol in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, March 06, 2018; the ninth day of statewide school closures.

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State senators acknowledge the cheers of teachers and school personnel after the passage of a bill to increase pay of state workers by 5% at the capitol in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, March 06, 2018; the ninth day of statewide school closures.

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Teachers and school personnel celebrate after the state Senate approved a bill to increase state workers pay across the board by 5% at the capitol in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, March 06, 2018; the ninth day of statewide school closures.

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Surrounded by Union leaders, Gov. Jim Justice signs a bill increasing state workers salaries by 5% across the board during a press conference at the Culture Center after the House and Senate passed the bill earlier in the day in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, March 06, 2018; ending the statewide teachers strike after 9 days of school closures.

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Misty Night. Kanawha Boulevard.

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House in a field outside of Belva, W.Va.

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Long Point Overlook. Fayetteville, W.Va.

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Star trails swirl around Polaris, the North Star, in this hour-long exposure at Calhoun County Park outside of Grantsville, West Virginia;

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Rainy Day. New Orleans.

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A woman holds an umbrella on a rainy day amidst fall colors at the Glade Creek Grist Mill inside Babcock State Park near Clifftop, W.Va., on Saturday, October 27, 2018.

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Pumpkin House. Kenova, W.Va.

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Watching fireworks over Appalachian Power Park from the top of a parking lot in Charleston, W.V., on Wednesday, July 04, 2018.

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Fairgoers on a carnival ride are silhouetted against the setting sun on opening day of the State Fair of West Virginia at the State Fairgrounds in Fairlea, W.V. on Thursday, August 09, 2018.

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Sandro Leal-Santiesteban practices with his violin shortly before the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra takes the stage during the 36th annual Symphony Sunday on the lawn of the University of Charleston in Charleston, W.V., on Sunday, June 03, 2018

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Sunlight from a skylight overhead illuminates Margot Jogwick as she announces a host of names of those who were murdered in the Holocaust during the 24th Annual “Unto Every Person There Is a Name” Holocaust Memorial Program at the Charleston Town Center Mall. in Charleston, W.V., on Thursday, April 12, 2018. Jogwick was born in 1934, and lived in the Jewish Quarter of Berlin despite not being jewish herself. She was a witness to kristallnacht and lived in Berlin for the entire duration of the war; seeking shelter in bunkers with her family during the Battle of Berlin in April 1945, which ended with Hitler’s suicide and the surrender of Nazi Germany. “It looked like Syria. Everything was rubble” she said. She lived in the Soviet sector of Berlin until 1958 when she emigrated to the United States.

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Larrecsa Cox of Cabell County EMS hugs a client after setting up outpatient care for her and the client’s significant other in Huntington, W.V., on Thursday, April 19, 2018. In the first three months of 2018, overdose totals in Cabell County were down 36 percent compared with the same time in 2017, according to health officials. This drop has been credited in part by the Mayor to the efforts of the QRT,

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Bill Ward uses a garden hose to assist firefighters in putting out a fire as multiple engines responded to a house fire along Virginia Avenue in the Longacre neighborhood of Smithers on Sunday morning, October 21, 2018. Ward, who lives down the street, mentioned that the person living at the home came down the street yelling, and everyone grabbed what they could to put out the fire until emergency personnel arrived. No injuries were initially reported and the cause of the fire remained unknown at the scene.

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Protesters are illuminated by police squad cars across the street from Market Street Park, where the controversial statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee stands on the second anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, W.V. on Saturday, August 11, 2018.

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Emily Filler attempts to dissuade state police from advancing on students rallying on the grounds of the University of Virginia on the second anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, W.V. on Saturday, August 11, 2018.

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White supremacists, led by Jason Kessler, march to Lafayette Square during the “Unite the Right 2” rally in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, August 12, 2018.

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Journalists photograph a type of smoke grenade placed by Antifa-activists in the middle of 17th street during the “Unite the Right 2” rally in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, August 12, 2018.

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A Metropolitan Police officer smokes a cigar while standing guard at the Pennsylvania Ave. security barrier on 17th Street where counterprotesters had gathered during the “Unite the Right 2” rally in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, August 12, 2018.

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Protesters are reflected in the glass of a White House security checkpoint on 17th street during the “Unite the Right 2” rally in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, August 12, 2018.

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The West Virginia State Capitol is reflected in the windows of the pilothouse as Captains Frank Murray, left, and Mike Krollmann steer the BB Riverboats’ River Queen on the Kanawha River in Charleston, W.V., on Friday, June 22, 2018.

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Kanawha City Elementary school student Derrick Johnson, 5, and his brother David Johnson, 3 stand with others gathered on the steps of the Capitol building in Charleston, W.V., on Saturday, March 24, 2018 in solidarity with the March for Our Lives rally in Washington organized by survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. “After the Parkland shooting I was scared to death to send my son to school” Their mother Carrie Samuels (not pictured) said.

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Henry Owens, 3, leans over a pew to retrieve a pretzel he dropped during an afternoon mass at Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral in Charleston, W.W., on Ash Wednesday, February 14th, 2018.

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Four kids look on curiously at a spin the wheel challenge at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, W.V. on Tuesday, July 17, 2018.

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Jasmin Ford, 7, bounces on an inflatable horse during the Easter Carnival at the North Plaza of the Capitol Complex in Charleston, W.V., on Saturday, March 31, 2018.

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Evan Kyer, 10, waits to participate in the Novice Goat Showman with his goat Neptune on opening day of the State Fair of West Virginia at the State Fairgrounds in Fairlea, W.V. on Thursday, August 09, 2018.

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From left, Malia Kearns, 8, Elliot Erlmett, 4, and Hayden Grimmett, 8, race down the hallway during a carnival-style book fair at the George Washington Elementary School in Eleanor, W.V., on Tuesday, July 24, 2018.

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Putnam Princess’. Charleston, W.Va.

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JROTC 1st Lieutenant Kristopher Collins of Tolsia High School waits with other cadets for during the state Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps drill competition at McLaughlin Air National Guard Base in Charleston, W.V., on January 27, 2018. Numerous high schools from around the state participated in the competition which judged their abilities to execute specific drill movements and tasks.

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Joined by Smokey the Bear, West Virginia First Lady Cathy Justice plants a dogwood tree in front of Sharon Dawes Elementary School in observance of Arbor Day in Miami, W.V., on Thursday, April 26, 2018.

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A great pair of socks are seen during a special session of the state House of Delegates in Charleston, W.V., on Monday, August 13, 2018. The Delegates are voting on 15 articles of impeachment against the four sitting judges of the West Virginia Supreme Court.

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Members of the House Judiciary Committee walk by portraits of the remaining court Justices while touring the offices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in Charleston, W.V. on Monday, August 6th, 2018. Justice Menis Ketchum retired from his seat one day before West Virginia lawmakers were to consider whether the state Supreme Court justices deserved to be impeached for corruption.

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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.

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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.

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Wyoming East students watch a free throw during the WVSSAC Class AA North Marion-Wyoming East girls basketball state championship at the Civic Center in Charleston, W.V., on Saturday, March 10, 2018.

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Redskins cheer as Lindsey Phares runs to home plate after hitting a home run during the Hurricane High School-John Marshall softball game for the AAA state championship title in Vienna, W.V., on Wednesday, May 24, 2018

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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

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East Fairmont’s team captain Corey Fluharty hides his face in his shirt as Winfield celebrates their victory during the Winfield-East Fairmont AA-A boys State soccer championships at the YMCA Paul Cline Memorial Youth Sports Complex in Beckley, W.Va., on November 03, 2018.

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Former Timberwolves linebacker Owen Porter embraces Tyson Hall (22) after the team’s loss to the Martinsburg Bulldogs in the the Class AAA WVSSAC championship football game at Wheeling Park Stadium in Wheeling, W.V., on Saturday, December 01, 2018.

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West Virginia Mountaineers defensive lineman Reese Donahue (46) kisses his girlfriend Sarah Moore after proposing to her following the mountaineers victory over the University of Kansas Jayhawks with a final score of 38-22 in Morgantown, W. Va., Saturday Oct. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Craig Hudson).

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Monserrate. Bogotá, 
Colombia

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Villa De Leyva, Colombia

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Villa De Leyva, Colombia

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Chingaza National Natural Park. Colombia

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Fall is in full swing at the Glade Creek Grist Mill inside Babcock State Park near Clifftop, W.Va., on Saturday, October 27, 2018.

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WVA Manufacturing. Alloy, W.V.

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Lightning over the Kanawha River. Charleston, W.Va.

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The John E. Amos power plant is seen from a field outside of Winfield, W,Va., on Thursday night, August 23, 2018. Built in the 1970’s, the plant is the largest in the American Electric Power system. Many of AEP’s smaller coal-fired power plants in Appalachia closed in response to environmental regulations such as the Clean Power Plan in 2015.

 

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!

February & March; The Month(s) in Pictures.

February & March; The Month(s) in Pictures.

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.

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Henry Owens, 3, leans over a pew to retrieve a pretzel he dropped during an afternoon mass at Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral in Charleston, W.W., on Ash Wednesday, February 14th, 2018.

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George Washington’s Zakarie Bailey is dogsled by teammates Ben See, Nick Graham and Hunter Douglas in between matches during the Kanawha County High School Wrestling Tournament at George Washington High School in Charleston, W.Va., on Saturday morning, February 03, 2018.

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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.

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A man walks across Capitol St. on a rainy day in Charleston, W.W., on Wednesday, February 14th, 2018.

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Benjamin Gross, 2, of Beckley, checks out a model train set during the 13th Annual Train Show at the lodge in Coonskin Park in Charleston, W.V., on Friday, February 17, 2018. The show is put on annually by the Kanawha Valley Railroad Association, a non-profit group.

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Braxton County teachers and other staffers congregate in a parking lot before demonstrating at the intersection of 79 in Flatwoods, W.V., on Saturday, February 10, 2018.

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From right, Joyce Bumbus, C K Dolan and Chloe White protest before conducting a walk in outside of Kanawha City Elementary School in Charleston, W.Va., on Friday morning, February 02, 2018.

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Hundreds of teachers and staffers from schools throughout counties in Southern West Virginia are seen at the Capitol building in Charleston, W.Va., on Friday morning, February 02, 2018.

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Teachers and school personnel preoccupy themselves through many hours of Senate deliberations at the Capitol.

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.

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Thousands braved cold temperatures and sustained rainfall to attend a Statewide Day of Action rally on the south steps of the Capitol building in Charleston, W.V., on Friday, February 17, 2018. The rally was done in support of education and public employees in their struggle for competitive pay and benefits.

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From left, Heather Myers, Sharon Cobaugh, Jennifer Kesecker and Ashley Bowman demonstrate in animal costumes at the West Virginia State Capitol on the second day of the teacher walkout in Charleston, W.V., on Friday, February 23, 2018. All four are teachers from Eagle School Intermediate in Berkley County.

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Ivan Weikle makes a face at his father while holding a sign in support of PEIA drawn by Lewisburg Elementary School art teacher Jody Wilber (in hat) along Route 219 in Lewisburg, W.V., on Monday, February 26, 2018 on the third day of the statewide walkout by school personnel.

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Colette Brown (back turned), 6, and Emily Knight, 6, draw with chalk on the sidewalk as their mothers who are also teachers from Nitro demonstrate (out of frame) outside of the capitol building on the fourth day of statewide walkouts in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, February 27, 2018.

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A protest sign is seen outside of the press gallery at the capitol building on the fourth day of statewide walkouts in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, February 27, 2018.

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Hundreds attend a candlelight rally in support of the ongoing statewide teachers walkout outside of the capitol building in Charleston, W.V., on Sunday, February 25, 2018.

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From left, Capital High School teacher Susie Garrison, George Washington High School student Amelia Engle and Nitro High School teacher Kizmet Chandler smile during a candlelight rally in support of the ongoing statewide teachers walkout outside of the capitol building in Charleston, W.V., on Sunday, February 25, 2018.

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.

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Governor Jim Justice stands up to leave a press conference at the capitol building on the fourth day of statewide walkouts in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, February 27, 2018.

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School personnel crowd outside of the capitol building on the fourth day of statewide walkouts while waiting for word of an agreement reached between union leaders and Gov. Justice in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, February 27, 2018

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The looks you give when you realize that your rank and file are not happy with you…at the capitol building on the fourth day of statewide walkouts in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, February 27, 2018.

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Jennyerin Steele Staats, a special education teacher from Jackson County holds her sign aloft outside of the capitol building after WVEA President Dale Lee outlined the terms for ending the walkout on the fourth day of statewide walkouts in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, February 27, 2018.

School personnel leave the Capitol grounds after WVEA President Dale Lee outlined the terms for ending the walkout at the capitol building on the fourth day of statewide walkouts in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, February 27, 2018.

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.

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Kristen Kief of Jefferson County wears bunny ears, an emblem of the ongoing teacher strike at the capitol in Charleston, W.V., on Monday, March 05, 2018; the eighth day of statewide school closures.

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Thousands of teachers and school personnel fill the capitol building in Charleston, W.V., on Monday, March 05, 2018; the eighth day of statewide school closures.

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Teachers line the capitol grounds after the capitol was declared at capacity and admittance was temporarily on hold in Charleston, W.V., on Monday, March 05, 2018; the eighth day of statewide school closures.

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From right, Wyoming County’s Mullens Elementary school teachers Kara Brown, Katherine Dudley and Nina Tunstalle, along with Lois Casto of Central Elementary school in St. Albans, react to news of a deal reached between the House and Senate for a 5% across the board increase for state workers at the capitol in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, March 06, 2018; the ninth day of statewide school closures.

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Teachers and school personnel watch a conference committee hearing in session at the capitol in Charleston, W.V., on Monday, March 05, 2018; the eighth day of statewide school closures. The hearing was called as a discussion to end the impasse between the House and Senate regarding pay increases for education personnel.

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.

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Senate President Mitch Carmichael is seen as the Senate approves a bill to increase state employee pay by 5% at the capitol in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, March 06, 2018; the ninth day of statewide school closures.

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State Senators acknowledge the cheers of teachers and school personnel after the passage of a bill to increase pay of state workers by 5% at the capitol in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, March 06, 2018; the ninth day of statewide school closures.

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Teachers and school personnel celebrate after the state Senate approved a bill to increase state workers pay across the board by 5% at the capitol in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, March 06, 2018; the ninth day of statewide school closures.

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State Senate Democrats leave the Senate after passage of a bill to increase state worker pay across the board by 5% at the Capitol in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, March 06, 2018; the ninth day of statewide school closures.

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Teachers and school personnel celebrate after the state Senate approved a bill to increase state workers pay across the board by 5% at the capitol in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, March 06, 2018; the ninth day of statewide school closures.

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Surrounded by Union leaders, Gov. Jim Justice signs a bill increasing state workers salaries by 5% across the board during a press conference at the Culture Center after the House and Senate passed the bill earlier in the day in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, March 06, 2018; ending the statewide teachers strike after 9 days of school closures.

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Gov. Jim Justice signs a bill increasing state workers salaries by 5% across the board during a press conference at the Culture Center after the House and Senate passed the bill earlier in the day in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, March 06, 2018; ending the statewide teachers strike after 9 days of school closures.

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.

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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!

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a cheerleader is silhouetted by an American flag as the national anthem plays during the Mountain East Championship basketball games in Charleston, W.V., on Sunday, March 04, 2018.

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Wyoming East students watch a free throw during the WVSSAC Class AA North Marion-Wyoming East girls basketball state championship at the Civic Center in Charleston, W.V., on Saturday, March 10, 2018.

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Central’s Taylor Duplaga, left, and Riley Bennington embrace each other after Wheeling Central defeated St. Joseph with a final score of 67-62 during the WVSSAC Class A St. Joseph-Wheeling Central girls basketball state championship at the Civic Center in Charleston, W.V., on Saturday, March 10, 2018.

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Glenville’s Tayana Stewart and Abby Stoller lunge forward with Notre Dame’s Ciara Reed during the Mountain East Championship basketball game in Charleston, W.V., on Sunday, March 04, 2018.

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Glenville State College players celebrate after besting Notre Dame college during the Mountain East Championship basketball game in Charleston, W.V., on Sunday, March 04, 2018.

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Alex Cook tries regaining control of the basketball during the George Washington-Martinsburg Class AAA boys state title basketball game at the Civic Center in Charleston, W.V., on Saturday, March 17, 2018.

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Owner, barber and stylist Linda Javins cuts Zandrea Wiley’s hair inside Guy’s Cut-N-Shave along Midway Road in Yawkey, W.V., on Friday, March 23, 2018.

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Chef Noah Miller prepares main courses including the pan roasted halibut, seared sea scallops eggplant wrapped swordfish and beef fillet inside his kitchen at Noah’s Restaurant & Lounge in downtown Charleston, W.V., on March 20, 2018.

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Lunchgoers and wall art are reflected on the bar counter at Gonzoburger in Charleston, W.V., on Thursday, March 15, 2018.

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From left, Paul Howard, Mark Burdette, Greg McCoy and Steve Hendricks of Kanawha Valley Pipes and Drums play outside of Bluegrass Kitchen during the 7th Annual East End St. Patricks Day Pub Crawl in Charleston, W.V., on Saturday, March 17, 2018.

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Brenda young is seen with her home that has been heavily damaged by a mudslide along Cabin Creek road in Eskdale, W.V., on Friday, March 09, 2018.

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The aftermath of a house fire on Quarrier street is seen in Charleston, W.V., on Friday, March 09, 2018.

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Kanawha City Elementary school student Derrick Johnson, 5, and his brother David Johnson, 3 stand with others gathered on the steps of the Capitol building in Charleston, W.V., on Saturday, March 24, 2018 in solidarity with the March for Our Lives rally in Washington organized by survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. “After the Parkland shooting I was scared to death to send my son to school” Their mother Carrie Samuels (not pictured) said.

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State Senator Richard Ojeda, 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.

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From left, Gracie Pritt, Kennedy Anthony and Parker Pritt react to bubbles being blown by Caroline Barner and Erin Anthony during the Easter Carnival at the North Plaza of the Capitol Complex in Charleston, W.V., on Saturday, March 31, 2018.

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Layla Collins, 2, of Hurricane plays in a puddle during the Easter Carnival at the North Plaza of the Capitol Complex in Charleston, W.V., on Saturday, March 31, 2018.

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Samantha Stalnaker, 14, aims her marble during a match at the 2018 A. James Manchin Memorial Marble Tournament at the Culture Center in Charleston, W.V., on Saturday, March 31, 2018.

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Steady rain and the return of leaves mark the beginning of Spring in downtown Charleston, W.V., on Friday, March 30, 2018.

2017: The year in pictures.

2017: The year in pictures.

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.

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Ruben Moya is shrouded behind plastic sheeting while making his way through construction inside the Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral, which is undergoing extensive renovations. Charleston, W.V., on November 02, 2017.

Snowy Day along Capitol Street. Charleston, W.V.
Snowy Day along Capitol Street. Charleston, W.V.

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Fairgoers are reflected in a puddle at the State Fair of West Virginia in Lewisburg, W.V., on Wednesday, August 16, 2017.

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From left, Ana Collins, Ania Jones, Asan Jones and Joshua Gray cool off at the Magic Island splash pad in Charleston,W.V., on Wednesday, June 28, 2017.

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Ballet dancers are seen in a long exposure during a performance of The Nutcracker at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences in Charleston on Wednesday, December 07, 2017. The production, with performances scheduled for December 08-09th, is put on by the Charleston Ballet Company with dancers from the Columbia Classical Ballet and the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra

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Mountaineer Challenge Academy students move past a mural drawn onto a canvas on the wall in the dining room area at the Governor’s Mansion in Charleston, W.Va., on Tuesday, December 05, 2017.

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A herd of bison roam through snowy fields inside the 777 Bison Ranch in Hermosa. The ranch prides itself on raising their bison completely grass-fed.

Passing storm over farmlands Southeast of Columbia Falls, MT.
Passing storm over farmlands Southeast of Columbia Falls, MT.

Pinnacle Buttes, Shoshone Wilderness. Wyoming.
Pinnacle Buttes, Shoshone Wilderness. Wyoming.

Grist Mill. Babcock State Park. West Virginia
Grist Mill. Babcock State Park. West Virginia

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Judy Blough of Montana gives a kiss to a stallion named Felix the cat at the 40th annual Black Hills Stock Show inside Rushmore Plaza Civic Center on Friday afternoon.

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The setting sun casts shadows of parents and students lining the fence during the Hurricane-Cabell Midland soccer game as part of the Class AAA Region 3, Section 1 soccer finals at Hurricane High School on Wednesday, October 18, 2017. Taken on assignment for the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hurricane players celebrate going into overtime during the George Washington Patriots-Hurricane Redskins football game at George Washington High School in Charleston on Friday, October 27, 2017.

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fall foliage dots the landscape as the girls cross country run is underway during the MSAC Championship at Cedar Lakes in Ripley, W.V., on October 11, 2017.

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West Chester University Goalkeeper Matt Palmer falls to his knees after University of Charleston Defender Armando Tikvic scores a goal to bring the score up to 2-0 during the UC-West Chester soccer game as part of the NCAA Division II tournament’s Round of 16 at Schoenbaum Field in Charleston, W.V., on November 16, 2017. UC would hold the score at 0-2 and advance to play Cal Poly Pomona in Kansas City.

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Charleston Catholic Forward Jordan Keener, right, celebrates with teammates Mills Mullen, center, and Elizabeth Rushworth after scoring a goal against Byrd High School as Eagles Defender Lura Simons collapses to the ground in agony after failing to block Keener’s kick during the Charleston Catholic-Robert C. Byrd soccer game as part of the State Soccer Championships at the YMCA Paul Cline Memorial Youth Sports Complex in Beckley, W.V., on November 04, 2017.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Violet Jones, 3, checks out the carved pumpkins at the Kenova Pumpkin House in Kenova, W.V., on Halloween night, October 31, 2017.

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Dusk over New River Gorge.

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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.

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Brigette Madden does a solo act during a rehearsal of “CLASSIC, COUNTRY AND ROCK ‘n ROLL.” by the Charleston Ballet at the Civic Center Little Theater in Charleston, W.Va., on Tuesday, October 17, 2017.

John Amos Power Plant from across the Kanawha River. Poca, WV
The John E. Amos coal-fired power plant operates Sunday night on the banks of the Kanawha River. The plant was upgraded to meet new environmental regulation standards by 2015. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald Trump is attempting to roll back the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which seeks to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

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Evening commute on I-64. Charleston, W.V.

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Crowds of people gaze and snap photos of totality during the great American eclipse in Greenville, SC., on Monday, August 21, 2017.

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Runners begin at the Capitol building for the Charleston Distance Run in Charleston, W.V., on Saturday, September 02, 2017.

at Dolly Sods on Sunday, September 24, 2017.
Dairy Queen. Buckhannon, W.V.

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Dunk a Wench. Maryland Renaissance Fair.

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Cunningham Memorial Park is alight in a sea of candles late Saturday night in St. Alban

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Lights from a house are illuminated in fog that blankets the road ahead under a starry sky somewhere around routes 39 or 28.

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Truck lights frame a house in this long exposure taken in the town of Daily along the Seneca Trail.

 

November: The Month in Photos.

November: The Month in Photos.
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. 

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Ruben Moya is shrouded behind plastic sheeting while making his way through construction inside the Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral, which is undergoing extensive renovations. Charleston, W.V., on November 02, 2017.

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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.

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Returning from deployment overseas, members of the 130th Airlift Wing disembark from their plane in a steady rain at McLaughlin Air National Guard Base in Charleston, W.V., on November 07, 2017.

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Patrick Berry greets his children Joshua, 11, Lily, 8, Brianna, 5, and Nathan, 3, during a homecoming ceremony for members of the 130th Airlift Wing who deployed earlier this summer overseas at McLaughlin Air National Guard Base in Charleston, W.V., on November 07, 2017.

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Gwyn Napier of Altered Fashionistas walks the stage during the Recycle Fashion Show at the Charleston Town Center Mall in Charleston, W.V., on November 18, 2017.

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Addison Jones, center, and Vanessa Morris, right, wait their turn to walk the stage during the Recycle Fashion Show at the Charleston Town Center Mall in Charleston, W.V., on November 18, 2017.

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Bud Sears rocks a baby inside the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston, W.V., on November 06, 2017. Sears has been volunteering in the Unit for 3 years, working six hours a day for three days a week.

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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. Robinson will be retiring at the end of the year.