River Men

I had to hike a mile down a mountain and along train tracks in the rain to photograph a crew of guys who are taking a hand-made batteau (a late 1700s-style boat) 360 miles upriver. Yes, UP-river. It was probably the best day of work I have ever had. Working with talented reporter Liz Barry, who did the whole hike wearing Converse All-Stars, we got in a couple of canoes to join the crew as they set up camp on the opposite bank. As my camera bag dried out by the fire, I couldn’t help but look around at where I was and again realize there is no other job quite like this one.

Check out the article at The News & Advance.

Music Maker

The News & Advance photo department is starting a monthly series on people of Central Virginia who are connected to the music scene in some way. Called “In Harmony,” we hope to find a diverse set of individuals who are all tied together through music.

This is the first slideshow in the series.

Raymond Buckner is a recording engineer and producer at Hallow Tree Recording Studios in Lynchburg. Originally from Danville, Buckner started on his path in music in eighth grade, forming a band with friends and recording demo tracks in his bedroom. Building on his music education at Liberty University, last year he joined James Walz, the owner of the Hallow Tree, and now oversees three to four sessions a week with musicians of all genres.

Bernadette’s Takeout

I have driven by Bernadette Christian’s storefront on 5th Street hundreds of times, as she is located on one of Lynchburg’s busiest roads. But her tiny operation is easy to miss, since it’s only about ten feet wide. With a menu that changes daily and hours that vary depending on when she runs out of her pre-made dishes, Burnadette’s Takeout is one of Lynchburg’s hidden gems. I spent a lunch hour with her and got to see how the operation works from the inside (a rare privilege).

Hughson Dairy Farm

During the two days we had for shooting at the Eddie Adams Workshop last weekend, I was sent to Willie Hughson’s dairy farm. I was supposed to look for a story that fell under the topic of “equality” but I just wasn’t getting that through anything I saw. So I decided to just shoot what was in front of me and let the story come. And, as I discovered just minutes ago, it did. This article from 2007 describes how Mr. Hughson is among the large group of farmers who are facing a delayed or uncertain retirement. I’ll let the photos speak from themselves but I feel like this set is a good start for telling that story.

365 days later…

On this day in 2010, I walked into the employee entrance of the News & Advance office, was shown to my desk and handed a camera. Granted, this camera turned out to be malfunctioning and my computer log-in had not yet been activated, but still, I had a job.

It has been a wonderful year and, as much as I miss Minneapolis and all the people I had to leave behind (but only in person), I don’t have any regrets about this most recent move. To many of my friends that have asked how I am doing, I have related a little story from a Christmas party back in December. As I was preparing myself a cocktail, a friendly guy in his late 20’s introduced himself and asked me what I do. I told him I was at the paper and added that I had recently moved to the area. He asked how I liked it and I said I was actually surprised by all that Lynchburg had to offer. He replied, “I know! It’s like, Lynchburg: not as bad as it sounds!” He had hit the nail right on its unfortunately-named head. And if anyone who reads this blog is also friends with me on facebook, I’m sure you will have noticed the album of 150+ photos from my life here which bears that phrase as its title.

All things considered, I believe every new experience is what you make of it and I am in the habit of making the most of what I find. I like to explore and push boundaries. Sometimes to a fault. (But I haven’t been arrested for trespassing… yet.) From hiking in the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains to rubbing elbows with¬†local pool sharks at the Cav Cup, I really have tried to understand this city, county and region first-hand. Of course, working at the newspaper has certainly facilitated this ambition but I like to think that my outgoing personality also facilitates my picture-taking. At this point I also need to give a shout-out to fellow photographer Kim Raff who has gone out of her way on countless occasions to include me in Lynchburg traditions and make me aware of worthwhile goings-on. As of this writing, she is expecting to leave here to work for a paper in Utah within a month and she will be missed. She met my father and I for dinner the night I arrived and never faltered as a mentor. Even her argumentative rants were always well-intentioned and in the best interest of the integrity of the newspaper.

So tomorrow I start my second year at this job and the schedule says I will be shooting two of the same events that I did last year: the Get!Downtown festival and an E.C. Glass High School football game. This industry revolves on a year-long cycle of sorts, with various annual events and holidays marking milestones as the seasons come and go. Ideally, we find a new angle or a fresh approach each time to expand on previous coverage. In practice, however, it’s simply not always possible. I will be very interested to see what I am able to capture second time around, if it will be better, worse or just different than the first time. I’d like to think I know what to expect but, as I learned that first day when I got to my assignment and my camera screen went black, you never know what’s going to happen.

Serving Life

I covered a two-day capital murder trial at the Appomattox Circuit Court last week. Probably the closest I had ever been to a real courtroom was when I was called for jury duty a few years ago, during which I was never assigned to a case. I covered the trial with reporter Chris Dumond and we had reason to believe that the judge would allow cameras in for the trial. At the last minute, the defense attorney objected, leaving myself and a TV cameraman with only a couple minutes to shoot. I got about 20 photos, including this one of the defendant, Alphonso Destin. Ultimately convicted of first degree murder, Destin and a buddy killed an elderly man in his home in 2008 and stole about $30 to buy gas and beer.

Having seen so many trials on TV shows and in movies, I couldn’t help but imagine the whole event was scripted – lawyers yelling “objection!” and witnesses crying. However, one look at the defendant smashed that illusion, and the seriousness and finality of the proceedings hit me. I was also allowed to shoot for several minutes the next day when the jury returned with their sentence recommendation. I watched Destin’s face through a telephoto lens as he heard the jury recommend a sentence of three life terms, with no possibility of parole. After he was led away in shackles and an orange jumpsuit, I walked out of the courthouse and headed back to the newsroom, thankful for my countless liberties.