Thursday, December 16, 2010

Snow Features

If I could make a living driving around making features pictures of kids playing in the snow, I would. Oh, wait. Sometimes that is my job.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

While You Were Gone: Best Decision

Jihan Sanders met her best friend Sheena Sullen in their 11th grade French class when Sullen turned around in her seat and introduced herself. “She has the biggest heart,” says Sanders. “She should have been my sister, I love her that much.” When Sullen, an Operations Specialist Petty Officer First Class heard she was deploying with the guided missile destroyer USS Mahan, she needed someone to take care of her two children, and Sanders, a mother of two herself, was ready to step in, though it meant picking up her family and moving them from Alabama to Virginia.

Now Dominique Sullen, 14, and Zaria Sullen-Polk, 8, live with Jihan Sander’s two children Tashawn Sanders, 12, and Darric Sanders, 9, in a cozy apartment in Norfolk where dinner is served promptly at 7:30 and Jihan calls out the bathtime schedule once the dishes are cleared. Being a caregiver for four children seems natural for Sanders. “This is the least I can do for her,” she says.

“I saw this beauty in her when she became a mom. I was a tomboy, and she showed me how to be a girl. When she needed someone to watch her kids while she was deployed, I prayed on it, and God spoke to me. It was time for a change, and I needed a new beginning. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made in my life, and I know she would do the same for me.”

Thursday, December 2, 2010

While You Were Gone: Birthday

It was one of the longest working days I've had in a long time, but not for a moment did it feel like work, watching this amazing young woman give birth to her first baby while her husband is away. This will turn into a longer story at the end of this month, once he is home and sees his child for the first time, so stay tuned. Amazing, amazing miracle.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Waiting and Light

I sat and I waited for something to happen in this shaft of light at a recent conference. Loved the red and the shoes.

Wonder of the Everyday

Everyday assignments can be filled with wonder, but only if you put yourself in the right frame of mind. I've been working full force on "While You Were Gone," and I find myself conserving my energy a little just to make it through these crazy past weeks. Babies are being born, or adopted, people are calling me with new stories, and just as I feel like I'm in the full swing of it, I see the end of the project looming, at least according to the timeline of the paper. How will I ever get it all done? Sometimes anything other than this project feels like an intrusion, a distraction, though daily assignments are why I have the luxury to work on this project in the first place. I've gotten good at making clean, pleasing pictures fast, so I can spend hours with my military families, but that's not always the ideal way to work.

I took a few hours the other day to linger at an assignment-- to talk, to sit, to see, to listen and to make a few pictures. He is 94, a veteran of Pearl Harbor and a long-time resident of Portsmouth, Va. who was planning to make a pecan pie that afternoon. Oh, I wanted to stay, but other assignments called for my attention. Daily work-- the routine of it, the fresh chance every day to make something beautiful out of the world around you-- makes me thankful to be a newspaper photographer, even if I'm feeling a little crazy these days.


I think of Mike Daviswhen I think of Cyclocross, though this was my first time photographing it. The course was not particularly gritty, and there was plenty of yellow tape all around, but it was a clear, crisp winter day and I was happy to be a newspaper photographer.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A bitter winter wind prevents families from lingering on the pier as sailors board the guided missile destroyer USS Mahan for deployment. Trent Davidson’s mother zips up his sweatshirt and cups his teary face in her hands for a last kiss, and then his father scoops him up and begins the long walk back to the parking lot. The oldest of the Corpsman Leslie Davidson’s three boys, Trent, 8, is carried by his father Brock until the family is well beyond the ship. “Hold hands,” Brock instructs his three sons, and Trent takes the hand of his brother Connor, 4, so they can cross the street safely.

“It’s just the boys,” announces Brock as they head towards the car. “I don’t know what we’re gonna do now. It’s gonna be a whole lotta Daddy.”

“The minute I walked away, I started thinking about Leslie and what she’s feeling. I can’t even imagine how she feels right now,” says Brock as he secures his two youngest sons into car seats in the back. Trent slouches in the front seat, his head bowed to his chest. This will be the longest time the boy has been away from his mother, and the act of saying goodbye seems to have affected him the most. “They have a really special bond. He’s really opened up to her,” explains Brock. “I think he has a harder time because he’s old enough to understand what’s happening.”

While You Were Gone

“She didn’t cry in front of us when she left, and as I drove away I thought, ‘Now, what the heck am I going to do now?’” says Barry Rose, whose wife Lt. Col. Michelle Rose is deployed in Afghanistan with Virginia National Guard’s Virginia Beach-based 529th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. The Roses are parents to three daughters, Michaela, 13, Barrett, 9, and Bobbie, 5, all of whom keep their father busy, shuttling between gymnastics, horseback riding and supervised homework each night. “I’ve been really proud of the way they’ve handled this,” says Barry. “They stay busy, and that keeps me busy.”

Barry, a retired Army man who met his wife in ROTC at North Carolina State, recalls their decision early in their marriage to hold off on having kids until they were out of danger of both being deployed at the same time. This is their first deployment with children, and it’s teaching Barry a new appreciation for single parents. “Our kids are independent to begin with, but they’re also at an age where they take care of one another. Every weekend, though, we count another week down to when this deployment will be over.”

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cynicism Can Suck It: Rachel Mummey Edition

Kids learn to swim at a local pool. Rachel Mummey, one of the kindest, loveliest interns in the history of photojournalism, just became College Photographer of the Year. I'm enjoying an insanely beautiful Virignia fall/winter day with coffee and perfect company. Cynicism can definitely suck it today.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


A husband and wife, living far away from one another. He's in the Navy, she is a professor and poet. I had the luxury of photographing both of them, and somehow I favored verticals in both situations, likely thinking about the designers who will be working on this story. I've found recently that a simple devotion to light and color makes the dreaded portrait assignment an exercise in craft rather than a bore. I'm coming to like portraiture again, after so many years.

Ghost Fleet

We spent the night on a boat out by the Ghost Fleet in the James River, the place where Navy ships go to die. From the deck of our small boat, I just waited and watched the sky turn every color imaginable. The calm water turned rough and we had to evacuate back to Norfolk sometime after 2 a.m., piloted by an ex-Coast Guard man while I offered moral support. Alive, home. And pretty, pretty, sky.

Monday, November 1, 2010

While You Were Gone: Adoption

The nursery is perfectly appointed, from the Humpty Dumpty lamps on the bedside tables, to the armchair by the window. The only thing missing now is the baby that Elizabeth Speigle and her husband Captain Hiram Augusto Centeno Justiniano have been waiting years to meet. The couple was ready to be adoptive parents, even when they learned their baby would arrive while Augusto is deployed in Afghanistan with Virginia National Guard’s Virginia Beach-based 529th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. Just weeks before her due date, the birth mother decided to pull out of the adoption process.

“You are only given as much as you can handle,” says Elizabeth. With the nursery ready and parenting classes completed, she checks the adoption site dozens of times a day, hoping for a match that might start the process all over again. “I fell in love with that baby from day one. Especially with domestic adoptions, you decide what your threshold is for risk and you take it. When I found out we’d lost her, I was sad and I was angry, but Augusto says that we need to be patient. Someday, our baby will come along.”

Monday, October 25, 2010

While You Were Gone

“In ancient Jewish society a woman depended on her husband for sustenance and social status,” comes the voice of Father Steve DeLeon through the television. “To lose a husband meant to be poor and defenseless, especially where the widow had no grownup son.” A few minutes late to Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Virginia Beach, the Castillo family sneaks past the lobby and into the nursery, where the youngest children, Kevin, 8, and Tessa, 5, find spots on the floor, and where the family can watch the service over the television. The Castillo’s eldest, Kim, sits between her boyfriend Ryan Harr and her mother, Tammy Castillo, whose husband Mike, a Maintenance Material Management Coordinator, is deployed with the Normandy. Though this is their fifth deployment, for Tammy, it is proving to be the hardest.

“Faith is what will keep us going when it seems that our situation seems hopeless and our prayers seem to go unanswered,” continues Father Steve, as Tammy raises her eyes to the screen and Ryan rests his head on Kim’s shoulder. “God does not ask us to be perfect, because we will never be perfect. God asks us to keep on trying. The persistent widow is the hero of today’s parable, not because she got what was rightfully hers, but because she did not give up in the face of all of the obstacles.”

Monday, October 18, 2010

While You Were Gone

“With deployment, I learned that I’m not in control of everything, and I have to let go of that,” says Danielle Brazie, whose husband Robin Brazie is an air traffic controller on the Truman. With all the uncertainty inherent in deployment and a nomadic life in the military, there are certain things she does control, and keeping busy is her way of dealing with this first long separation from her husband. She has three children to care for, and has devoted herself to homeschooling them, so their daily life is full of activities like trips to the zoo, where even Annabella, 6 months, is engaged in the lessons of the field trip.

“I get so lonely for him, but the goal is to be so busy that I don’t have much time to miss him,” says Danielle, who . “For the first two months, I missed him because the day-to-day was harder without him. Now, I miss him as my partner, the person I love. I miss his company.”

“When he left, I’d never really lived in a big city. I told myself I’d get really busy and involved. Now that he’s been gone so long, I see that I did everything I said I’d do, and that means a lot to me. Now I know, I can do this. I can make it through this, if I just stay busy.”

Friday Night

I love shooting football. Have I mentioned that before? And a team called the Wildcats? Why not. It's a throwback to Jasper, where I first learned about football.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Football Magic

In the bright light of day (top) and after it gets dark (bottom) I love shooting football, though I don't get to do it as much as I used to.

Monday, October 11, 2010

While You Were Gone: Father

This one was a tough one to edit, because this family way so lovely, and the range of experiences we shared in the few hours I was there was so wide. Which one would you pick for print? I'd love some input.

“If I wake up crying for mommy again, will you come up and get me?” calls Jackson after his father, who carries a drowsy baby Ella to her bedroom. The night before, Jackson had woken up calling for his mother, Elizabeth Barnes, for the first time in a since she left for her deployment as a Chief Electronics Technician on the Truman, and wants the assurance that his dad would be there for him. Gary Barnes ducks back into his son’s room. “Of course, buddy. I’ll be there.”

“She’s physically gone, but she’s not really gone. She’s a part of our everyday routine,” says Gary. Gary had planned to make his career in the Navy as a Chief Fire Controlman, until an illness forced him into early retirement. The family re-imagined their plans, and it made sense for Elizabeth to finish her career in the military, and for Gary to care for the children, as well as run the family business, while Elizabeth is away. “It’s different on so many levels. Instead of being only the disciplinarian, I’ve learned when they need comfort and when they needs hugs and kisses. Sometimes they just need ten minutes to run wild, instead of being on a strict schedule. It’s a really cool bonding experience I get to share with my kids.”

Friday, October 8, 2010

While You Were Gone: Grocery Store

Red-faced, wailing, and inconsolable, the baby’s cries cut above the din of Walmart’s food aisles on this Thursday afternoon. Mary Brazie, mother to Aubrey and Aidan, has resigned herself to the constant protestations of her youngest child, who is calm in the car but disconsolate once forced into the child seat. Mary scans the aisles for the bread, peanut butter, and apple juice on her list, and contemplates whether a five pound bag of apples fits into her weekly budget, or if she should just pick up a few for now. She puts the full force of her small frame into maneuvering the shopping cart through the store, anxious to get the shopping trip over with as soon as possible.

“One look from Tyler, and the’d both be smiling,” sighs Mary Brazie, whose husband Tyler Brazie, a third class petty officer, is deployed with the Truman. Their first deployment has proved difficult for Mary, especially since Tyler is such an active father to her two children. “He’d be smiling, the kids would be happy, and he’d be making choices about what to buy because he loves to cook. When I first met him, I thought to myself, ‘this is the man that I love.’ It is harder than I expected to be without him, even for just the little things, like grocery shopping.

The day he deployed, he left a towel on the floor of the bathroom, and normally that would bother me, but for the longest time I didn’t even want to pick it up, because I missed him so much. I would give anything for him to be home right now, leaving towels all over the floor.”

While You Were Gone: Birthday

More from my photo column While You Were Gone: stories of military families with loved ones deployed.

The hair is done, the makeup on, and the heels high as a group of young women prepare for their Saturday night out. Meghan Gorny places a tiara in her straight blonde hair, bought specially for the occasion that the group has gathered to celebrate; her 32nd birthday. While the mood is light in the parking lot of the local gas station on the way to the restaurant, Megan’s expression belies a certain stoicism. When asked about why the return date for her husband Lt. Joel Gorny’s, ship the Normandy keeps changing, Meghan shrugs it off. “Whatever happens, happens,” she says. That he can’t be here for her birthday doesn’t bother her either. “Things could be so much worse.

“I was in the Navy so I know what to expect and the bottom line is that he has a job to do.” While their husbands, boyfriends, and fiancees are away, women of the Normandy’s Family Readiness Group are quick to support one another. “They are my family when he’s gone. They are what is keeping me sane” says Megan. “We’re all on the same page. The other wives and girlfriends know what deployment means more than any of my civilian friends ever could. I’m just taking it day by day.”

Hunting More Magic

Thursday, October 7, 2010


I will not complain about the fruity drinks, the golf cart rides, the midnight kayaking, the beer and the boat, the best friends in the world. If only there was more vacation in my life. Someday.

Making Your Own Magic

No one will schedule your magic for you. If you want it, you have to go and find it yourself.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

While You Were Gone: First Anniversary

Blogging has been slow for the past few weeks, as I've been starting out a photo column for the Pilot, which explores the lives of military families with their loved ones deployed. Working on this column has been one of my favorite tasks so far this year-- every week I get to sneak away from daily work for a few hours, and get to a place where my heart is really open and the people I'm photographing truly care to have their stories told. I also write an extended caption, which takes me back to my days before I was a photojournalist. I appreciate writers every day, and even more on the days when I'm sitting with a blank screen in front of me and no idea where to begin. So often writers write about the process of writing-- the struggle and the uncertainty. I understand. Four down. Eight to go.

Last year, Samantha Hill would not have imagined that her date for her first wedding anniversary would not sit across from her, but fall asleep in her arms just after the appetizer was served.

Riley James, 5 months old, with his father’s face and a calm personality, is a stand-in for Samantha’s high school sweetheart and new husband Justin, a boatswain's mate handler on the Truman. From rival schools and FFA clubs in California, the two have know each other since they were freshmen in high school.

“He was washing his heifer, and decided I needed a shower and he drenched me with the hose. This was at the Kern County Fair in California. It was meant to be.”

“He’s always the one who remembers of anniversaries. For our first anniversary when we dated in high school, he had a dozen long stemmed roses delivered to my 7th period English class with a card that read “Sorry I couldn’t be there. Happy Anniversary. I love you.” Ever since then, he’s always done something romantic.

“I’m not thinking about what he’s missing, but about all the things he will be here for; Riley’s first steps, his first words. When he asked me to marry him he told me ‘you’re not just marrying me, you’re marrying the Navy, and there’s no knowing where and when they’ll ask me to deploy.’ I said, ‘no problem.’ This doesn’t feel like my anniversary. I just feels like another day that he’s gone, another day closer to when he comes home.”

School Stories

The tallest, loveliest, kindergarten teacher in the world. Just my kind of story.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hurricane Earl

As Hurricane Earl approached coastal Virginia a few weeks ago, our entire photo staff was called to arms, in case the storm ended up being devastating. We're really, really serious about storm coverage here. The waders were in the trunk, the food to last for days, the batteries, the changes of clothes, the canned coffee, the chicken salad sandwiches-- all packed. I sat in my truck at 3 am out in Virginia Beach, waiting for the rain to begin, and by 6 am as the light rose, there was some rain and a little wind, but not much to photograph but the waves and the branches moving. When that's what you see, that's what you shoot. Pretty, pretty colors.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Blue Ridge Parkway

Days spent driving a nearly empty road, looking for pictures, finally culminates in this four-part series in the paper on the 75th Anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was my first go at a story that was largely driven by landscape, and while it was challenging, I have to say I loved the slow, deliberate pace of shooting sense of place pictures, mostly at dawn and at dusk. People at the Pilot are amazing: Olivia Hubert-Allen designed the interactive, Sam Hundley rocked the print side, and Diane Tennant, the writer, made a beautiful narrative of history and imagined culture. I'll post more outtakes in the coming days. The road, the light, the strange motels and hot dog stands: I fell in love with all of it.