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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.
This month was one of those that’s at times representative of what it means to be a staff photographer. One week you’re shooting assignments like marathons and high intensity sports while the next is dominated by court appearances, press conferences (and a golf game). Nonetheless, September was a really good month. Iv’e started pitching and pursuing my own stories for the first time, and have gotten back into shooting long exposures at night; something I used to do a lot and very much have missed. All this combined has had me feeling very good about where I am and what i’m doing. I’m also writing other blog posts that I’ll be putting out soon, including a second part to my post about advice to photographers starting out.
I’ve got a couple trips planned to various parts of the state as Fall sets in and the leaves change.
So since it’s now September, I thought I’d make a little post about the month of August, which was a fantastic month for images. Easily the best so far since I started in late June. Shooting nearly every day again after not doing so for almost 5 months has me feeling sharper visually, and with fall right around the corner, a time in which West Virginia explodes in color, the photos will hopefully continue to keep coming.
Of course, we all know that the Great American eclipse stole the show this month, and for perfectly good reason; It was nothing short of breathtakingly ethereal. I drove down to South Carolina for it, where my good friend Josh Morgan is currently working as a staffer for the Greenville Tribune. It was great catching up with him and our friend Angus Mordant, who does work as a stringer for the NY Daily News. We spent the weekend together and shot the totality, Josh from the top of the highest building in the city and Angus & I down in Falls Park where hundreds had gathered to watch. As totality neared the area began to turn a golden hue as though it were late afternoon, and the crowd cheered with every noticeable shade the area became darker. As soon as totality hit however, late afternoon almost instantly turned to dusk. People shouted and applauded witnessing this unbelievable spectacle; a black orb vivid in a cobalt blue sky where the sun had been a moment ago. Looking through my camera, the corona of the sun was clear as a beautiful and delicate light that seemed to dance around the moon, rolling outward like a shining wave. Knowing time was very short I quickly snapped a few close images before shooting what I could of the surrounding landscape and the people lining the bridge directly above us. I was glad to be able to have some kind of foreground in the image, as it was 2:39 in the afternoon and the sun lie almost straight up above us.
This month started out continuing ride alongs with EMS supervisors in the city as they went from scene to scene, with breaks in between at the firehouses on either side of the city. While the focus of the written story was on new mindfulness classes offered to fire & ems personnel, I had the opportunity to speak with them more directly about the effects that the opioid epidemic is having on their resources. I learned that one of the largest issues that they are facing is the avalanche of calls received that turn out to be false alarms, one common scenario being calls from bystanders calling about someone lying on the ground who they believe might be overdosing, only for personnel to show up and discover it’s just a person taking a nap on the grass. While personnel are grateful that bystanders do call in when they think their might be a problem, they are frustrated that most of the time, bystanders themselves will do nothing to see if the person is in fact just someone napping on the grass, instead their first and only step being to call 911. Another issue is that because the epidemic is so pervasive, crimes that in the past may not have been necessarily drug related, from domestic abuse to car accidents and robberies, are now often a factor. It seems, there are few crimes committed now in which drugs are not involved.
This month was also the first time that I photographed one of Pres. Trump’s rallies. I think anyone that knows me already is well aware of my feelings regarding him, so i’ll move past this one.
This month was very varied in subject matter. While July saw mostly tennis and golf, this month had me shooting a little bit of everything. I particularly loved going to spend a day at the state fair, despite having a pretty bad cold at the time. I’d never photographed a state fair before, and I love the visuals they bring about in my head-The stock shows, the carnival rides that turn into a sea of blinking vivid lights in motion at dusk, the cheap food and of course, waves of people from every corner of the state.
This month also saw the beginning of football and soccer! Two sports iv’e come to very much enjoy shooting, not only for the action on the field but even mores for all that happens off it!
Well that’s it for now. Iv’e got a number of other written blog posts on the way, so they’ll be coming out soon! Thanks for stopping by.
I’m afraid that iv’e been away from the desk for far too long! For those of you who don’t already know, I moved to West Virginia exactly one month ago to take a staff position at the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the state’s largest newspaper. Since then I have largely set up my new apartment (I now own a washer and dryer, guess that means i’m an adult now?) and have gotten to know the city and the surrounding area.
So for any of you who might be wondering, why West Virginia? There are a couple of reasons. I wanted wherever I was going to go to be a place where I could share impactful stories. To be sure, this is something that can be done anywhere, as there are always stories to be told no matter where you are.
4th of July along the Kanawha River. Charleston, WV.
Late Afternoon at Blackwater Falls. WV.
However, West Virginia in particular is ground zero for some of the larger issues facing the country today; from the decline of once dominant industries that millions depended upon for their livelihoods to the effects of the opioid epidemic on addicts, their families and the communities that they live in. Those are issues that I want to cover. However, I also don’t have any desire to engage in making work that does nothing but reinforce simplistic (and to many of those who live here, blatantly offensive) stereotypes of the region. Iv’e only been here for a month, and I already know that there are so many good people here who love their state and are doing everything they can to make it better. Those are the people whose stories in particular that I want to tell.
I also like moving to places that have a certain mythos about them. Places that hold a certain image, no matter how true or false, in the American psyche. It’s one of the reasons that I moved to the Black Hills region of South Dakota, an area often associated with “The West” and all of the concepts that come with it. Like the West, Appalachia is more than just the name of a region based on the series of mountain ranges that form it.
Appalachia conjures up images and ideas of a culture, of a certain kind of lifestyle. To cite an example: Don’t act like you haven’t drunkenly belted out the chorus lines to John Denver’s “Take me Home, Country Roads” at least once at some bar or late in the night at your friend’s kegger. I want to experience for myself these kinds of places and see just how much of those ideas and assumptions are made up or hold water.
That’s about what I have for now. I’m going to make a point of writing more frequently on this blog now that I am shooting full time again. I want to write not only about the experiences I am having now but also what experiences i have had and the lessons learned from them that someone else looking to become a photojournalist themself might find useful. I also want to start sharing more of my travel guides again, as I have a lot to say about the places that iv’e been, including a comprehensive guide to Washington, D.C.