February 2018-Photos of the Month

Second day into February started with a breaking news story I had never covered before. My coworker Zahra and I went to a triple homicide early Saturday morning. It had to be the coldest night of that month. It was about one in the morning. It was so quiet in the neighborhood. I took as many photos as I could. I took photos of officers and detectives working the scene as well as areas where light caught my eye. We decided to wait it out until one of the officers could confirm what had happened. We knew it wasn’t going to be a good outcome regardless. 

Then the family showed up. And I’m not talking about a few individuals, there were cars full of people wanting answers. We all waited for several hours. It wasn’t until a man and woman crossed police tape toward the house that everyone got out of their cars too. So did we. 

The neighborhood wasn’t quiet anymore. 

What took place shortly after I will never forget. It was an eye-opening moment for me as a photojournalist. To get to the point, I froze. 

I froze when the detective told the family that three of their loved ones had been shot dead. Immediately a group of women dropped to the ground screaming. One woman threw a trash can near my direction as I fumbled to take the shot. It was chaos. I didn’t know what to do or when to cross the line. Part of me didn’t want to photograph their pain. The other part of me needed to do my job. I was torn. It was the hardest thing I’ve had to do here so far. 

Once Zahra and I got the information we needed we went to a 24-hour diner. We were quiet for the majority of the time. I ordered blueberry pancakes and bacon. She ordered a cheeseburger. 

It was a long night. 

We had to cover polar plunge in a few hours. Welcome to the life of journalists. 

I don’t think covering breaking news where the victim’s family is involved will ever get easier. I think it’s important to remember to go with your gut and to always move and photograph in a way that shows respect and empathy while getting the images you need to do your job. Depending on the situation, I don’t think it’s ever worth getting the shot at the expense of re-traumatizing a person in the worst moment in their life. Obviously I have a lot to learn yet on this topic. 

Here are my favorite photos from the month. 

This month I really pushed myself to improve my portraiture, something I really enjoy and have made it a point to get better at while I’m here in Flint. One assignment in particular set it off for me as a turning point in how I look for light and work my subject to make the best portrait possible. Corrections officer Elwanda Ray was the perfect person to help boost my confidence during the portrait session. She was so patient and just all around a wonderful person to get to know while I was photographing her. 


Corrections officer Elwanda Ray, 46, of Flint stands for portrait at Thumb Correctional Facility on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Lapeer. Ray has been named the 2018 Corrections Officer of the Year. She spends her work days interacting with the inmates encouraging them to be better men. “I motivate them to be better,” Ray said. “Flowers do grow in a dark place.” Instead of playing cards or watching tv, Ray encourages the men to read and better their education while in prison. She also makes a point to remember birthdays. Bringing positivity to the men is what she believes helps them when they get out. “I’m the real sunshine,” Ray said. “At the end of my life I want to be remembered as someone who made a difference.” Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

Corrections officer Elwanda Ray smiles for a portrait at Thumb Correctional Facility on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Lapeer. Before becoming involved in corrections, Ray wanted to be a singer, then an x-ray technician which turned into an interest for social work and finally criminal justice to be a correction officer. “I love my job,” Ray said. When she isn’t working, Ray volunteers in the community. She is active with the youth as well as in nursing homes. “I take elderly people in the neighborhood on field trips to the movies or shopping,” Ray said. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

Corrections officer Elwanda Ray smiles as she reflects on how her and her husband met in the 90s while at Thumb Correctional Facility on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Lapeer. Ray is a mother of two, god mother to seven and has a grandson. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

Corrections officer Elwanda Ray stands for a portrait at Thumb Correctional Facility on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Lapeer. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

And then the flooding happened. The first image is so far my favorite photo I have made thus far at the Flint Journal. 


And now the rest of the month. 

Cardine Humes, 48, sits in front of the mural he painted on a building located on the streets of Dupont and West Dayton on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2018 in Flint. Humes is originally from Memphis, Tennessee, but moved to Flint when his father was diagnosed with cancer. He has been living in the city for six months and working on the mural for three months, weather permitting. Painting and drawing has always been a part of his life. “I was punished as a child in school,” Homes said. A teacher once caught him smoking cigarettes. “Before he would tell my mom he would give me an ultimatum.” The teacher would have him stay after class and draw. He would write sentences on the board and have Humes draw the words. “He knew I had some kind of talent,” Humes said. That talent didn’t stop even when he went blind in one eye from a sling shot accident when he was a boy. The mural was commissioned by the Urban Renaissance Center. It is focused on the restoration of neighborhoods of Flint. “It’s time to come together,” Humes said. “It’s time to restore.”


January 2018-Photos of the Month

I did a lot of firsts this month. I left a full-time job for an internship. I moved to a city I only heard about in the news. I moved to a community that wasn’t dominated by white people. And so far I’m loving it, and learning more than I ever have. 

I’m really happy I made this change. It has no doubt extended the longevity of my life as a photojournalist. I needed the perspective and the challenge. I hope that gives someone encouragement if they ever feel they need something more. I couldn’t have done it without the solid base of training I received at the Billings Gazette, my former place of work. 

So here I am now in Flint, Michigan. Home of a water crisis that is ongoing, pot-hole infested roads, abandoned houses and an incredible sense of community made up of the most resilient people I’ve ever met. Some can’t leave and many choose to stay. It’s a mix of so many things. I was so excited to be thrown into the middle of it when I arrived. 

But then they sent me to a job fair on my first day. I winced when they told me. Job fair? In the middle of the day? Really? Fine. In my experience job fairs have always been small, maybe 100 people or less who were able to squeeze it in before class or work. And so off I went. Job fair… grumble.

As I drove to the job fair’s location I noticed traffic was heavy, I was in a long line of cars which inched its way to Mott Community College. Cars were parked along residential streets. Law enforcement was the only thing preventing angry motorists from running reds and hitting each other. Is this the same thing? 

When I entered the college I couldn’t believe what I saw. The line of people waiting for an interview was in the thousands. They were wrapped around the interior of the building, up stairwells and clogging hallways. And there were only 400 jobs available with the company, Lear Corporation. I was shocked. People in Flint need jobs, badly. That assignment was a great experience and introduction to members of the community. Never assume you know how an event is going to be, even a job fair. Over 1,500 people showed up and due to the influx of people, many were turned away. 

Ever since that assignment it has been non-stop in the best way. I’m so thankful to have met some incredible colleagues as well as my editor and mentor, Jake May. Also my coworker and roommate Zahra Ahmad. It has been a blessing to work and live with an equally driven and talented women as she is. We have so many ideas that we need two more of us, maybe three. I’m so looking forward to seeing the work we do together. 

With that being said, here are a few of my favorites from this month. 

Always say yes to something that will make you better. Even if it goes against the norm.


December 2017 - Photos of the Month

Looking back at 2017, December was the month that brought the most change. 

The best change by far was my beautiful niece Hattie Jo who came into our world on December 23rd. I got to spend more than a week with my big brother William and his wife Amanda while we waited for the arrival of our precious new addition to the family. It was such an incredible experience to watch my brother become a father. 

Those days I will never forget and I’m so happy I had that time with them. 

So much happened before and after that as well. I finally saw a story publish that I had been working on for months. December was also the last full month I worked at the Billings Gazette. I overcame a lot of emotional obstacles along the way. 

In the new year I will begin my new job at the Flint Journal in Flint, Michigan. I cannot wait to hit the ground running in the community and tell stories about the people who live there. 

For now, here are a few favorites from last month. 

 

See you in Flint next year!

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