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. 

Special education teacher at Brendel Bulldogs Phil Pickard belly-flops into Lake Fenton on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, during the Michigan Law Enforcement Polar Plunge for the Special Olympics at the Fenton Moose Lodge in Fenton. The event raised $81,000 for the Special Olympics with her 300 volunteers jumping into the frozen lake.

From left, dressed in handmade mermaid costumes, Kelsey Newcomb, Jodi Canfield, Elissa Ladzinski and Jeannie Anthony stand for a photo on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, during the Michigan Law Enforcement Polar Plunge for the Special Olympics at the Fenton Moose Lodge in Fenton. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

From left, dressed as vikings, Ashton Stewart, Leslie Stewarts, Marty Gordon and Sara Hunter pose for a selfie on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, during the Michigan Law Enforcement Polar Plunge for the Special Olympics at the Fenton Moose Lodge in Fenton. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

Over 300 people take the plunge in Lake Fenton on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, during the Michigan Law Enforcement Polar Plunge for the Special Olympics at the Fenton Moose Lodge in Fenton. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

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. 


Flint resident Brayden Benado, 5, looks out the window of his parent’s car on Robert T. Longway Boulevard at North Center Road on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018 in Flint. Earlier Benado was in a vehicle that became stuck when it was driven into high flood waters. “I was scared,” Benado said. “When I grow up I’m going to get a truck.”

High floor waters caused several motorists to become stuck on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018 in Flint. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

Jeremy Beagle of Burton City Towing watches the cable as he tows in a vehicle that was stuck on Robert T. Longway Boulevard at North Center Road on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018 in Flint. This was the third vehicle Beagle towed out of the waters. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

High floor waters caused several motorists to become stuck on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018 in Flint. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

Houses reflect in flood water on Mountain Avenue on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 in Shiawassee County. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

Ketara Sealey, 17, takes a photo of the school bus’s tire on streets of Moore and Sterling on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018 in Flint. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

And now the rest of the month. 

Travis Kindt Jr., 2, begins to cry as barber shop owner Chris Ascencio and Kindts’ mother Summer Freeman try to settle him during his first ever haircut at Ascencio’s Barber Shop on Richfield Road on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2018 in Flint. The barber shop has been doing first-time haircuts since it opened in 1993. Ascencio has seen it all. He once had a kid turn around to try and claw him while he was trimming the boy’s hair. Kindt put up a similar fight until his mom came to side. “On the scale from one to ten he was a high nine,” Ascencio said. Once Kindt’s hair was buzzed and trimmed, he received a certificate with his name on it stating he had received his first ever haircut. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

Kelsey Evans, 21, of Burton devours a jam-filled flavored Paczki during the ninth annual Paczki eating competition at VG’s Grocery Store in Davison on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Davison. Evans was the winner of this year’s event. This is the second time he has competed in this competition. He won VG’s first event when he was in eighth grade. He said his strategy is to go fast and use water. This isn’t his first eating competition either. Besides Paczkis, Evans has competed in a pizza and pie eating contest. This weekend he ate a T-rex burger at McDonalds which was made out of nine patties. After winning the contest he said he feels alright physically. “I actually felt worst when I ate the burger,” Evans said.

Second-grader Kendall Bullock, 8, stands next to her unicorn box during Valentine’s Day card exchange party at Siple Elementary School on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Davison. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

Flint resident Jia Ireland holds still as she has her picture taken during the “Black Panther” private screening at NCG Trillium Cinema on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, in Grand Blanc. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

James Jones, 28, of Saginaw walks out with a bouquet of flowers at Vogt’s Flowers and Gifts on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Flint. This evening Jones plans to propose to his girlfriend Kimdra Payton. “Today is the day,” Jones said. “I can’t stop smiling.” He adds that he couldn’t sleep last the night before. “She makes me strive to do better,” Payton said. “I couldn’t imagine my life without her.” Around 7 p.m. Jones proposed to Payton in Saginaw at an events center he rented out. She said yes.

Beecher cheerleader Michaya Gomez, 16, practices her jump before the game at Beecher High School Auditorium on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Mount Morris. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

Beecher’s sophomore Earnest Sanders blocks Goodrich’s sophomore Colby Wiggins shot at Beecher High School Auditorium on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, in Mount Morris. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

Carman-Ainsworth players listen to head coach Jay Witham during half time at Carman-Ainsworth High School on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, in Flint. Witham served as the voice of reason that helped restore order at a delicate time when his players were losing their composure against Mount Pleasant. The Cavaliers were on the verge of becoming unglued when a fight nearly broke out early in the third quarter, moments before Carman-Ainsworth’s 6-foot-7 Mike Fletcher received a technical foul after sending Mount Pleasant’s Jackson Ostrowsky to the floor with a hard foul under the basket.

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.”

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