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.
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Attendees are reflected in a glass door during the inaugural Good Jobs conference at Tamarack in Beckley, W.V., on November 08, 2017.
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Benjamin Ryan Taylor leaves the Jackson County Courthouse after his pre-trial hearing in Ripley, W.V., on November 01, 2017. Taylor is accused of sexually assaulting his girlfriend’s 10 month old child who later died from injuries incurred during the assault.

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UC Midfielder Ross Holland high fives UC supporters after UC’s victory over LIU Post in Charleston, W.V., on November 18, 2017 for the right to play in the NCAA Final Four of men’s soccer.
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WCU Goalkeeper Matt Palmer falls to his knees after UC 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.
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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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Hurricane High School Redskins celebrate their victory over Wheeling Park High School during the State Soccer Championships at the YMCA Paul Cline Memorial Youth Sports Complex in Beckley, W.V., on November 04, 2017.
John Amos Power Plant from across the Kanawha River. Poca, WV
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.
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Evening traffic on I-64 crossing the Kanawha River. Charleston, W.V.
in Charleston, W.Va., on Thursday, October 22, 2017.
Poca House. WV. The John Amos Plant towers above on the other side of the Kanawha River.

Craig’s guide to San Francisco

Craig’s guide to San Francisco

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!

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From the Desk: Missing the Shot

From the Desk: Missing the Shot

 

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

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like chimping. Stop it. Stop doing it. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

From the Desk: On Assignments

From the Desk: On Assignments

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

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

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

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

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

And then there is the anomaly image.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some additional photos from this week.