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Earlier this month, I finally bought my dream camera, and I’m going to use it to cure myself.

. . .

For seven months now, I’ve been dealing with a struggle.

It’s not a daily gloom, nor is it definitive, long-term or easily explained. Additionally, “dealing with” is the best way I can characterize what I’ve been doing — largely because I can neither face it head-on nor avoid it, largely because I don’t know what it is.

It’s not a rut or cabin fever. I’m still passionate about what I do as a photojournalist, and I’m proud of some of the recent work I’ve done.

It’s probably related somehow to my experiences in Newtown, but I’m not sure how or why.

It’s not impacting my ability to function as a human or as a photojournalist, although I’m sure that my boyfriend would appreciate it if I helped out more with chores, as I once did.

I can’t diagnose it because I don’t know what it is, where it came from or why it’s affecting me, but I’ve recently decided that the best prescription is to care a little harder.

. . .

I think, in this age of Instagram, Facebook and quick-and-easy photo-taking/-sharing, we don’t care as much about the pictures we make. We snap a shot, share it, move on. By the end of the week, we’ve shared two or a dozen more photos, and we don’t even remember what we photographed two weeks ago.

On a related note: I love my job. We are trained to transmit photos almost as soon as we make them, in certain cases (mostly breaking news and sports). It’s fun and fast-paced, and I think it’s a neat step forward that we’re able to do. But because I work for a daily newspaper, I can have anywhere from one to four assignments in a day, which adds up to a lot after any given period of time. People ask me what I did this week, and I have to explain to them that I honestly can’t remember because every day has blurred into an indistinguishable continuum.

So, I have recently found myself pretty anxious to take a very large, deliberate step back from the immediacy that everyone else supplies and demands. (At least, for personal work.) Therefore, I’m returning to my roots, which means film. I first learned real photography at a summer job in New Mexico, where a hippie named Grant put a 6-pound, medium-format Pentax in my hands and taught me the entire process. To make frames on such a tank of a camera — and to develop the film, use enlargers and make prints, all in the same day — was incredibly empowering, and magical. I fell in love.

Last month, I went to Santa Fe to see Grant again and spend time with him. (I don’t think he ever believed that I made the trip just for him, but it’s true, Grant.) It was only a three-day trip, but it was peaceful, and in my heart, New Mexico is home. As I used my Mamiya (no Pentax yet) to make a picture of Grant and his Charlotte in their backyard, I knew I’d found a cure, or at least a relief, for my struggle.

I’m going to return to film, and make pictures that mean something to me. I can’t tell you how many rolls I’ve wasted on shots “just because,” and how many of those frames are just languishing in my binder because they ultimately are of no value to me. So I’m going to care harder about my personal photography, and it’s going to be film, and it’s going to be something that I will treasure 20, 30, 40 years down the road.

I’m starting now, with a few frames from a few rolls I got developed after my New Mexico trip. These were all taken with the Mamiya, but expect to see a lot of work coming from the Pentax from now on.

© 2013. Let’s start with Grant, who here strikes an “American Gothic”-esque pose with his Charlotte in their Santa Fe backyard in late June 2013. It goes without saying that I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for Grant and his guidance, patience and warmth.

© 2012. An accidental double-exposure during a Special Olympics event at Blue Knob State Park in February 2012. This frame features two Jeff’s, and two Mike’s (Jeff’s younger brother).

© 2011. When Jeff moved in with a family in Broken Arrow, Okla., for the duration of his Tulsa World internship, they brought home a cat for him. I named her Oreo, and finally met her when I visited Jeff in October 2011.

© 2011. The Blue Whale of Catoosa, because who doesn’t love a Route 66 roadside attraction?

© 2012. I went back to Houston for a few days in August 2012, and Dad happened to match up his authentic Hawaiian shirt perfectly with his Crocs. So, this happened.

© 2012. My mom took this of Jeff and me on the morning we left Houston to drive back to York. Notice the brand-new boots.

© 2013. Step aside, Prince George Alexander Louis. Baby Layla is the only baby that matters. Family portrait with Matt, Emily and Layla, then 6ish months old, in my parents’ Houston backyard in February 2013.

© 2013. Can you tell this is May in Missouri? Chelsea and I were college roommates, and this visit was the first time we’d seen each other since senior year.

© 2013. I went up to Philmont Scout Ranch, where Grant first taught me in 2006, for a day. This is Bryan outside the News & Photo building, and he’s holding a printer that I took back for Grant. Bryan and I worked together at Philmont in 2008, and he’s now the ranch’s marketing director.

Every single one of these frames means something to me.

Is that something any given person can say about any given photo they’ve taken recently?

Probably not.

But it’s something I want to be able to say, honestly, about all of my personal work from now on.

I’m not gonna lie: For the majority of my life, Memorial Day meant little more to me than a long weekend.

Until I met a 90-year-old World War II veteran who has devoted the past two years of his life to finding, documenting and mapping more than 70 York County veterans memorials.

Al Rose is blind in his left eye, but he spent countless hours poring through newspaper microfilm at the York County Heritage Trust, in search of any news of veterans memorial dedications. Then, before giving up his drivers license last Christmas Eve, Al put several hundred miles on his car in search of these memorials — many of which are pretty difficult to find even if you know generally where they are.

Believe me, I know: I followed in Al’s footsteps in order to confirm his work and readers’ information and to help create a map of these memorials for the newspaper.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. In a fit of OCD-induced restlessness during a relatively empty shift, I compiled all the pictures I made of York County veterans memorials into this poster-like image. The bottom image is of the various honor rolls that adorn the columns of the old York County courthouse.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. In a fit of OCD-induced restlessness during a relatively empty shift, I compiled all the pictures I made of York County veterans memorials into this poster-like image. The bottom image is of just a few of the various honor rolls that adorn the columns of the old York County courthouse.

This was a time-consuming process that took me several shifts — in one case, all the daylight hours of a shift — to complete. And I loved it. I thrilled in driving to and finding corners of York County I had never seen before. It was exciting to find an obscured memorial, and it was sobering to read the names on so many communities’ honor rolls.

One honor roll had a name listed under the Spanish-American War. Others were overwhelmed by those who served in World War II. At least three honored those who have served in the current war on terror.

After finding and photographing 68 of the 70+ veterans memorials over roughly the past few weeks (editor Scott and reporter Brandie helped out with a few of the last ones we found out about), I find it repugnant that I formerly had so little respect for Memorial Day, and that many Americans continue to do so.

York County certainly has its share of veterans memorials — over 70! — and yet I doubt that many who live here are aware of or care about their existence. It’s saddening, especially when I think about all the tiny communities who gave up so many sons that their honor rolls are too long for a readable photograph.

Yes, I’ll probably participate in some sort of grill-out this Memorial Day weekend. But I’ll draw the line at Memorial Day sales. And, thanks to a long and sometimes difficult search for almost 70 veterans memorials, I’ll remember just how much of itself York County has given to this nation.

For more information:

  • A summary of Al Rose’s work and how we completed this project
  • The interactive map itself
  • A full slideshow of all the veterans memorials Scott, Brandie and I photographed
  • A video of Al Rose working on his project… at the bedside of his wife, who has Alzheimer’s

Off to the side

Sometimes, when the big event is happening, I look elsewhere to make pictures — especially when the big event involves somebody at a podium.

So, I look to the children.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Goode Elementary fourth-grade student Demylee Perez leans on her crutches while pledging allegiance during the 21st annual Four Chaplains Prayer Breakfast on Wednesday, May 8, 2013, at the Yorktowne Hotel. Perez, who is a member of the school’s select chorus, received her leg injury in a minor car accident the previous day, but nevertheless showed up at the school Wednesday morning with her mother so she could sing at the breakfast. Major General Wesley E. Craig spoke at the 21st annual Four Chaplains Prayer Breakfast at the Yorktowne Hotel on Wednesday, May 8, 2013, while Hanover-based American Red Cross member Elizabeth Tyler received the Legion of Honor membership.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Leah Bazzle, 7, and Mia Johnson, 9, hold the keys to the city that were presented to their fathers David Uhrik and and Jamiel Alexander during the State of the City reception prior to York mayor Kim Bracey’s address at York College on Thursday, May 9, 2013. Uhrik received the York Humanitarian Award, while Alexander received the York Unity Award.

(I love that the fathers in the second photo can so easily show affection for their daughters without my having to include their faces: Look at their gentle hands.)

Well, I thought I was okay.

Sometime between mid-January and late March, I had ceased thinking about Newtown on an hourly or daily basis. The holiday season was finally over, I got to meet my baby niece, Jeff and I were taking ballroom dance lessons and I was back in the swing of regular work.

But near the end of March, I had a dream: I was back in Newtown, and I was interviewing a florist as she was preparing spray arrangements for a child’s funeral. Suddenly, I felt my eyes burn hot with tears, and my mind went blank. I quickly turned away for a moment, then faced her again.

“I’m so sorry,” I told her. “I don’t know what’s the matter with me.”

Then I woke up.

Later that day, another reporter who had been in Newtown wrote a blog post in which he explained his reluctance to talk much about his experiences:

1.) I’ve been nervous that [this] just comes across as me complaining about my own personal situation.
2.) I’ve felt a certain amount of guilt for feeling so badly when there are obviously people who were directly and significantly affected by what happened far more than I can imagine.
Additionally, I’ve wanted to distance myself a little from my coverage in Newtown. It’s not a fun thing to talk about so I largely avoid it, though there are times when I’m drinking with buddies that things will slip out. 

That basically sums up my feelings.

But now I feel ready to share some of the pictures I made while in Newtown. It could be that the warmer weather and sunshine are helping me overcome the dreariness of that trip. It could be that I’m actually getting okay-er over time. Or it could be that it’s simply time to do this now.

Continue Reading »

Today, the York Catholic girls played their seventh state championship game in the past eight seasons.

Today, they lost 45-38 to Bishop Canevin.

But — they lost with grace.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. (Left to right) York Catholic’s Zaenna Echevarria, Morgan Klunk, Hannah Laslo and Amelia York listen to head coach Kevin Bankos in their locker room after losing 45-38 to Bishop Canevin in the PIAA Class AA girls basketball championship game on Friday, March 22, 2013, at the Giant Center.

I began following the team’s journey this morning after I checked in with the student tailgate outside the Giant Center:

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. (Left to right) York Catholic seniors DeeDee Davis and Bri Raineri and junior Ian Shelley help themselves to eggs as Mary Williams and her daughter Christina, 11, work on cooking the bacon at a student tailgate outside the Giant Center before attending York Catholic’s PIAA Class AA girls basketball championship game on Friday, March 22, 2013.

Hairspray:

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. (Left to right) York Catholic’s Zaenna Echevarria and Deanna Chesko fix up their hair as Morgan Klunk washes her hands in their Giant Center locker room on Friday, March 22, 2013, before playing the PIAA Class AA girls basketball championship game.

Socks:

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. York Catholic’s Amelia York prepares to change out of a lucky pair of socks in the locker room at the Giant Center on Friday, March 22, 2013.

High-fives:

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. York Catholic’s Morgan Klunk swoops in for high fives from her teammates as they get ready for a group picture on the Giant Center’s court on Friday, March 22, 2013, before the PIAA Class AA girls basketball championship game.

After the game, tears:

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. York Catholic’s Amelia York, right, wipes her face after receiving her PIAA Class AA runner-up medal on Friday, March 22, 2013, at the Giant Center. To her left is Marissa Ressler (22).

Trophy:

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. York Catholic’s Morgan Klunk holds the PIAA Class AA runner-up trophy while watching Bishop Cavenin players receive their championship trophy on Friday, March 22, 2013, at the Giant Center.

Chocolate:

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. York Catholic’s Hannah Laslo holds up a five-pound Hershey’s chocolate bar as she and her teammates greet the student section after losing 45-38 to Bishop Canevin in the PIAA Class AA girls basketball championship game on Friday, March 22, 2013, at the Giant Center.

And a pep talk:

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. While comforting teammate Hannah Laslo, York Catholic’s Amelia York gives a pep talk to her fellow players after York Catholic lost 45-38 to Bishop Canevin in the PIAA Class AA girls basketball championship game on Friday, March 22, 2013, at the Giant Center.

I’d like to thank the girls for letting me follow them around, even inside the locker room, and being completely normal about it. They’re a class act, a strong team and wonderful people.

For more coverage:

Working out

I’ve never taken the time to count how many times I’ve been assigned to photograph people as they work out or otherwise exercise. But even if we don’t include sports practices and games, it’s still a fairly large number. In the week around New Year’s this year, I happened to have two separate assignments that had me cover people going through their routine gym workouts.

The funny part was, people in both assignments made remarks along this vein: “I’m sorry you have to follow me around while I’m in the gym today. This can’t be that interesting. I hope they’re paying you a lot.”

I assured them that I was not suffering in these assignments. On the contrary, I see these assignments as a challenge to show the human interacting with and mimicking the form of the gym equipment.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Shelby Dietz, 40 of Windsor Township, completes a set of pull-ups under the supervision of her personal trainer Evan Branin on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2012, at Strictly Fitness in Springettsbury Township. Dietz has been working out with personal trainer Evan Branin for about five years, and has been concentrating on weights and strength training. Dietz said she typically does four days of strength training and two days of running in a week.

© 2012 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Mary and Craig Duttera of Dover Township exercise their arm muscles in the fitness room at Bob Hoffman YMCA on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012. The couple have been members at that YMCA for about 20 years, and work out 5-6 times a week. Since Mary joined Craig in retirement several years ago, they have been working out together more frequently.

My first-ever cheerleading assignment took me to the YAIAA Cheerleading Championship, where seven teams competed in two divisions. It was a lot of fun, especially with the presence of the youth cheerleaders who performed showcase, non-competition routines. If I shoot this next year, I’ll definitely take my shooting to the next level, but nevertheless — this was fun.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Dallastown Cougar youth cheerleader Nautica Shortlidge, 11, works on 11-year-old teammate Lauren Maher’s hair as Riley Sharp, 10, looks on before they showcased in the 2013 YAIAA Cheerleading Championship on Saturday, March 16, 2013, at Dallastown Area Senior High School. William Penn took first place in the “small” division of the 2013 YAIAA Cheerleading Championship on Saturday, March 16, 2013, at Dallastown Area Senior High School, while Central York won in the “large” division.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Members of a Dallastown Cougars youth cheerleading squad practice their routine in the wrestling room before showcasing in the 2013 YAIAA Cheerleading Championship on Saturday, March 16, 2013, at Dallastown Area Senior High School.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Susquehannock cheerleaders return to the locker room after performing their routine in the YAIAA Cheerleading Championship on Saturday, March 16, 2013, at Dallastown Area Senior High School.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. William Penn cheerleader Shalai Tyler and Central York cheerleader Abbie Davis, center, hug on the mat after each school took first place in its respective division in the 2013 YAIAA Cheerleading Championship on Saturday, March 16, 2013, at Dallastown Area Senior High School.

Check out more photos, plus a video I produced of Central York’s winning routine.

I love shooting basketball. It was the first sport I ever shot (thanks for throwing me in, Rae) and much of my first winter in York was spent covering high school games. This season, not so much, oddly enough. But here’s a collection of some reaction-oriented feature pictures — or jubilation, or “jube” — from the post-season.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Dallastown’s Katie McGowan cuts off a piece of the net after the Wildcats won the YAIAA girls title game on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. Dallastown defeated West York 50-37.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. William Penn’s Trey Shifflett, left, looks on as Stephen Dickson gives South Western’s Mike Duffy a hug after the Bearcats defeated the Mustangs 57-44 for the YAIAA boys title game on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, at York College.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Susquehannock’s Makenzie Fancher looks at the scoreboard after the first half of the District 3 AAA girls basketball title game on Saturday, March 2, 2013, at the Giant Center. Palmyra defeated Susquehannock 46-30 to capture the District 3 AAA girls basketball title.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Delone Catholic’s Allyson Shipley, 32, stares straight ahead during the runner-up medal ceremony after York Catholic girls defeated Delone Catholic 56-38 to win a District 3 record eighth Class AA basketball championship on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, at the Giant Center.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. William Penn cheerleader Shalai Tyler comforts player Derek Wilson as he gets up from the bench to congratulate Harrisburg after the Cougars defeated the Bearcats 78-76 in overtime to capture the District 3 AAAA boys basketball title on Saturday, March 2, 2013, at the Giant Center.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. William Penn’s Stephen Dickson leaves the court after congratulating Harrisburg after the Cougars defeated the Bearcats 78-76 in overtime to capture the District 3 AAAA boys basketball title on Saturday, March 2, 2013, at the Giant Center.

And, to end on a joyous note, four pictures from the York Catholic girls’ eighth consecutive district title win — which, by the way, is a District 3 record:

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. York Catholic’s Amelia York, 12, hugs her fellow starters as they greet the relief players on the court after defeating Delone Catholic 56-38 to win a District 3 record eighth Class AA basketball championship on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, at the Giant Center.

For me at least, it’s easy to forget, after covering some of these girls for three seasons, that they’re just girls. They’re still in high school. They’re just kids. Then you get off the court, and they’re jumping and whooping and giving each other piggy-back rides back to the locker room, where they then break out into song and run around and remind you that they’re still girls, and that’s totally okay.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Standing on a chair, York Catholic’s Amelia York leans on teammate Morgan Klunk while pretending to be a character from the Disney movie “Mulan” in the team’s locker room after defeating Delone Catholic 56-38 to win a District 3 record eighth Class AA basketball championship on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, at the Giant Center.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. York Catholic players Emma Keffer, Morgan Klunk and Amelia York celebrate in the locker room, alongside their assistant coach’s daughter Amanda Reed, 6, after defeating Delone Catholic 56-38 to win a District 3 record eighth Class AA basketball championship on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, at the Giant Center.

I’ve lost track of how many commencement ceremonies I’ve photographed, but I learned pretty quickly that you’ll make the best pictures before or after the actual ceremony. I tend to arrive early, just to make sure I get pictures in case I’m called away to spot news mid-ceremony, but until somewhat recently, I never mustered the courage to walk into the girls bathroom and ask if I could make pictures.

Glad I finally did.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. York Adams Academy graduates Shawni Mitzel, left, and Aniamonie Walker adjust their caps before walking in the winter commencement ceremony on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, at the York Learning Center. York Adams Academy graduated 32 students from 14 York and Adams counties school districts in its winter commencement.

Hello baby

Hello baby.

© 2013.

Everybody, meet Layla. She’s the five-month-old daughter of my brother Matt and his wife Emily, and as the first member of my family’s newest generation, she’s a big deal.

© 2013. Matt, Emily and Layla in my family’s Houston backyard.

Jeff and I flew down to Houston last weekend for Chinese New Year, and Matt and Emily brought the baby for everyone to meet.

© 2013. My grandma greets Layla, held by Matt, during dim sum on Chinese New Year’s Eve.

© 2013. My uncle Doug – who declares himself to be not a “great-uncle,” but rather a “great uncle” – holds Layla, who is apparently laughing at/with my uncle Dave (whom Doug says is a “grand uncle.”)

© 2013. Wherein Matt offers a fish eyeball (held between the chopsticks) to Layla. Needless to say, Emily would not allow him to actually feed it to her, so he happily ate it instead. Eating fish eyeballs is, um, a fairly male Dunn thing.

In case you were wondering — yes, I have a lot of photos from the five days we spent in Houston. Like I’ve said, Layla is kind of a big deal. Plus, this is the first, last and only time I’ll have had with her as a baby. Because an ocean separates Matt’s family from me, the next time I see Layla, she’ll be crawling if not walking, probably talking and definitely showing more personality.

So yes, I made a lot of pictures, and this post reflects a few of my favorite moments from our trip.

Continue Reading »

Discovering dinosaurs

Dinosaurs. This was reporter Lauren’s and my first assignment together since covering Newtown.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Holding daughter Sophie Hewitt, 1, in one arm, Jessica Fahringer of Wrightsville coaxes son Lucas Hewitt, 2, to stand with her for a picture underneath an Allosaurus dinosaur model in the “Discover the Dinosaurs” traveling exhibit on Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, at the York Expo Center.

It was basically a big traveling exhibit of dinosaurs. No one in the newsroom was excited about it except for editor Kate and me. Me, I love dinosaurs. Everyone else, though, was hatin’ on it.

Turns out — if you read the comments on our story and a Facebook page dedicated to it — a lot of people hate on this exhibit. I’ll let you judge.

When I asked fellow photographer Kate about shooting wrestling at Milton Hershey School, she gave me two really good tips: Use a 300, and shoot from the track level.

I understand wrestling just enough to shoot it, so I’ve never tried to have fun with it before. Today, I did just that by acting on her tips. Thanks Kate!

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Boiling Springs’ Grant Bond, top, wrestles with Bermudian Springs’ Dalton Becker in the 120-pound bout in the District 3 Class AA team championship match on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, at Milton Hershey School. Boiling Springs defeated Bermudian Springs for the District 3 Class AA team championship.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Boiling Springs’ Kyle Shoop, left, wrestles Bermudian Springs’ Ted Marines, right, in the 126-pound bout in the District 3 Class AA team championship match on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, at Milton Hershey School.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Bermudian Springs’ Briton Shelton, left, wrestles with Boiling Springs’ Tyler Kauffman in the 145-pound bout in the District 3 Class AA team championship match on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, at Milton Hershey School.

Barn cat

Damn straight this is my first photo blog post of the new year. May 2013 be a good and happy year for us all.

© 2013 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Rascal the barn cat observes her domain from her perch on 17-year-old Kristen Thomas’s head on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013.

(Yes, Rascal climbed up there on her own. Yes, I have real photos from this assignment. Yes, I will share them soon.)

One month and a day ago, reporter Lauren and I drove to a part of the country neither of us had really been to before: Connecticut. We didn’t know where we were staying, we didn’t know what we would we be doing and we didn’t know anybody with whom we’d be working.

This was all we knew:

  • Our job was to help out a sister paper, The New Haven Register, by doing whatever they asked of us, in the wake of the second-worst school shooting in U.S. history.
  • One New Haven editor’s name.
  • …I think that’s about it.

We were asked to go, and we went. It was a long, dark drive to New Haven from York, and all I could think about was who, what, where, when. I didn’t think about why, or how. I didn’t dare to. I kept my focus on the road and on my job, and that’s pretty much how the next four days and five nights went.

already wrote that, upon my return to York, I finally cried. And now I’ve had a month to think and reflect and talk to the caring editors, coworkers, friends and boyfriend that I’m so fortunate to have.

People have asked how I’m doing, and by and large, I’m okay. As I’ve already written, I was in Newtown for only four days, I never set foot inside a funeral (some reporters had to, and I can’t imagine what they might be going through), I met only one person who actually knew a victim. I’m not a parent, and I haven’t yet experienced deep personal grief or loss.

But while I’d rather not dwell on this, I won’t sugarcoat it either: Things are different now. I’m different now. How can they/I not be? When you spend time in such a small, cozy place as Newtown, where the overcast skies match the grief in the air and strangers admit they’ve been crying all day and flower- and candle-laden memorials never leave your sight, it’s hard to dismiss the thoughts and memories that linger in your mind after you leave. It actually feels wrong to do so.

• • •

I’ve so far had neither the heart nor the will to share the pictures I made there, as well as others I made before and since then. I was determined to be a human in my reporting in Newtown, and I’ve since been determined to be a human for my own sake. So, when I’m not at work, I have turned my focus to the mundane: small tasks like avoiding folding the clean laundry and large tasks like tackling a book that’s taken me more than nine years to complete.

Some day — maybe tomorrow, six months from now or whenever I’m ready — I’ll share those pictures from a month ago. In the meantime, I’m working toward normalcy.

Ten or so nights ago, I dreamed about a Newtown that I barely recognized: There were no news vans, the sun was shining and people were smiling.

Every day, I hope that dream will no longer be just a dream.

…a time for every purpose under heaven

Last night when I came home from work, I collapsed into bed and wept.

It hadn’t been an ordinary day at work. It hadn’t been an ordinary week at work.

Reporter Lauren and I had just worked four days reporting for The New Haven Register in Connecticut after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Arriving Friday night in New Haven and working Saturday through Tuesday in the Newtown area, we sought stories outside the big story, knocked on doors, found leads, lost leads, held back our own emotions and listened. Every day meant an exhausting stretch of shoe-leather journalism, and, always determined to come back with a story, we powered through.

Tuesday, we returned to York, where finally I could forget about work and cry for the lives lost.

…a time to gain, a time to lose

Like everyone else in the world, I started Friday, Dec. 14, normally. I got up, showered, ate breakfast. I heard about a school shooting somewhere in Connecticut, but didn’t realize how devastating it was until I was on my way to the newsroom and (at a red light) saw Jeff’s text that 27 people had been killed.

I almost cried then, but knew I had work to do. My assignments for Friday evening included a Penn State football recruit and a local teenager’s holiday light display. I had to hold it together and do my job.

Then, just before I planned to leave to photograph the Penn State recruit, my editor Eileen beckoned me over into the conference room.

Could I, if called upon, go to Newtown that night to help The New Haven Register (and our parent company Digital First Media) with their coverage?

I said yes. So did Lauren. Just over an hour later, we were on the road to Connecticut.

…a time to gather stones

During the four days we worked in Connecticut — four long days that seamlessly blended together amidst the confusion, the scope, the monumental sadness of the story — Lauren and I agreed to avoid the media circus as best we could. The people of Newtown and Sandy Hook were being bombarded by camera crews and reporters, and we wanted no part of that, mostly out of respect for those people in their time of sorrow.

So we spent the first three days reporting “on the fringe,” finding stories outside of the immediate area, talking to people who knew no victims but still grieved. We found a Christmas tree farm that opened on Saturday so area families could try to return to the holiday routine and to a sense of normalcy. We found a religious gift shop owner who kept her store open not just for business but for people who needed to come in and pray with her. We found a church whose mission was outreach and whose members somehow found the time and resources to organize a teddy bear drive, alongside their half-dozen other holiday-related charity programs.

The fourth day, I had no choice but to join the media circus when I was assigned to produce video of the back-to-back funerals of James Mattioli and Jessica Rekos at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church. Two or three people who drove past the media scrum on Church Hill Road yelled at us to “leave them alone” and “go home.” Even before that, though, I felt sick to my stomach about covering funerals, and had to remind myself that, more importantly, the families and friends on the other side of so many cameras and notepads must feel worse.

The fourth day, it seemed, would be the worst day.

…a time to embrace

Then Lauren, on assignment for another story, found a hair stylist who was scheduled to cut James’s hair the day after the shooting. So after the funerals, we went to her salon, which was attached to a kids’ consignment store she also operated. We chatted with her husband about the three months of hard work he had put in to renovate the salon. Instead of interrupting her business for an interview, we waited as she gave a grown customer a haircut, even though I was under pressure to get the funeral video online quickly. We learned that she and her husband came from New York City — he from the Bronx, she from Brooklyn — so their children, now ages 20 and 24, could have a backyard.

Finally, we sat with her, and she told us, on-camera, about how she had so looked forward to seeing James on Saturday, the day after such a terrible tragedy. How he never arrived, and she thought his mother had forgotten and would reschedule. How horrified she was when she saw his name on the victim list. How, when they saw each other at James’s wake, his mother apologized for not calling to cancel the appointment.

When she was done, she gave us hugs. I think we all needed it. I did.

The fourth day ended better than it had begun: I noticed, as we left her salon, that the sun was starting to break through the clouds that had enshrouded the area since Saturday morning.

…a time to weep

I think, for the most part, I’m fairly capable of compartmentalizing emotion. I say, “I think” because I’m by no means a veteran of the industry, and who’s to say I’ve seen the worse that I’ll ever see in my career? But I’ve covered homicides, fatal car accidents, stories of loss. I’ve always maintained my professionalism, while still seeking to be a human in my reporting.

Lauren and I powered through our four days of reporting without shedding a tear, though I came close a few times. It wasn’t adrenaline. I hate to think it was desensitization.

So on Monday afternoon, as we were wrapping up reporting, I suggested that we go to the memorial near the school. None of our work had, thus far, brought us into Sandy Hook or near the school, and I felt it was important that we go pay our respects. We parked on a back road, left our cameras and notepads in the car and walked to the huge makeshift memorial site, which consisted of numerous Christmas trees drooping with ornaments and surrounded by hundreds of stuffed animals, notes and lit candles.

We did not cry. Maybe, if we had not been on deadline and had not been essentially putting off work at the time, we would have.

The tears came on Wednesday night when I was finally home again. It was then that I felt like a human again.

…a time to heal

I’ve been back in York for a full day now, and normalcy is not a thing yet. I went into work today to do some paperwork and participate in the holiday potluck and secret Santa gift exchange, but it all felt strange and foreign. Jeff and I are planning a weekend trip to Philadelphia — which had been our original plan for last weekend — and I mean to bake Christmas cookies, but it’s hard for me to focus on anything.

And yet, I was there for only four full days. I neither knew nor met any of the victims’ families. I never set foot inside a funeral service or wake, and I met only one person who personally knew a victim.

How or whether the people of Newtown and Sandy Hook will fully heal, I’m not sure. But I can say this: It is a strong, close-knit community, and even in a time of immense sorrow, the people are among the kindest, most polite I have ever met.

Many people, including the media ourselves, have noted media fatigue and even animosity toward the media. But Lauren and I encountered only one instance of animosity, which we knew not to take personally. Everyone else — and there were many whom we talked to — was so nice and helpful and friendly. We were astonished, and grateful.

…a time of peace

There’s no telling when the media frenzy will depart Newtown, but the news vans will swarm the streets again next year on the anniversary, and again, and again. The hair stylist who knew James Mattioli said she thinks many of the families will move away. There has already been talk of Newtown being defined by the tragedy, as has happened to Columbine.

It saddens me. Newtown is a lovely place. People in both directions of traffic will stop to let you make a left turn out of a driveway. There are no Walmarts, very few fast food restaurants and a lot of mom-and-pop shops. Everybody knows each other, and if they didn’t know you at first, they’ll at least remember your face and smile next time they see you.

Lauren and I have talked about going back to Newtown again sometime — not as media, but as people, just to say hi to those who greeted us so warmly and talked to us so candidly and treated us so warmly. It’s just a terrible shame that we encountered this wonderful community only by way of a horrific, senseless act of violence.

Another reporter with whom Lauren and I worked said it best:

We all are affected very deeply by this, we care very much for those it touched, and we truly wish that this all never happened.

Last night, reporter Lauren and I covered a fire in Newberry Township. It was the second fire in Newberry Township that day — I wasn’t sent to the first — but what caught editors’ attention was that a women was insisting on removing her exotic birds from the burning house. Then, the scanner crackled to life when emergency officials began shouting about ammunition going off inside the house.

So, we drove out, parked our cars near the road blocks and hiked down the dead-end, unlit road where the house was located. We did our jobs there and, over two hours later, hiked back to our cars. I obviously have real pictures from the scene, but here’re a couple I took on our way there and back, just because:

Lights from the fire vehicles.

Lauren (right) walks toward her car (center), which is silhouetted by an oncoming car.

Therapy for Andrew

Two-and-a-half years ago, I completed my first long-ish-term story. It was about Mason – a young boy going through hippotherapy – and it was my first time spending more than a few hours or a day with a story subject.

Recently, I completed another story involving hippotherapy. Unlike Mason, Andrew is going through additional therapies and has more significant obstacles to overcome. You can read Bill’s full story, which involves another family as well, and check out all the photos I put together for the story — but here are a few of my favorite pictures from my time with Andrew, including some that weren’t published:

© 2012 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Andrew Breault, 7 of York Township, stands up in his saddle atop his horse Clover, with assistance from Leg Up Farm equine director Megan Giordano, to strengthen his core and leg muscles on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. Breault was born with epilepsy and suffers developmental delay, low muscle tone and partial chromosomal deletion. He has gone about 1.5 years without seizures, and in addition to horse therapy at Leg Up, receives speech, physical and occupational therapies elsewhere.

© 2012 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Andrew Breault, 7, right, outstretches his hand for his father Dave to hold as he steers his battery-powered ATV down the family’s York Township street on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. Andrew Breault used to ram his tricycle into objects, but since he began his horse therapy at Leg Up Farm, his steering ability has improved. The Breaults bought him the ATV after seeing how well he was steering one at a friend’s birthday party and deciding it would help reinforce the motions he learns during horse therapy.

© 2012 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Dave Breault administers medicine to his son Andrew, 7, as he and mother Kathleen watch a TV show about large vehicles on Netflix after dinner on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. Andrew Breault’s favorite things are emergency vehicles, but even a show about street sweepers was enough to distract him as his father gave him several different medicines.

© 2012 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Kathleen Breault waits for her son Andrew, 7, to finish steering a toy police cruiser down the stair railing as they get ready to go to Andrew’s horse therapy at Leg Up Farm on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. Andrew’s fascination with emergency and police vehicles extends to a large collection of toy cars on display in his bedroom.

© 2012 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Christopher Breault, 4, and his mother Kathleen wave to Christopher’s brother Andrew through a large viewing window as Andrew undergoes his horse therapy session at Leg Up Farm on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. Father Dave Breault watches from Kathleen’s left.

© 2012 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Kathleen and Dave Breault sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” with their son Andrew, 7, as he holds up a small American flag in his bedroom at bedtime on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. Thanks to a slew of therapies, Andrew Breault can now form three- and four-word sentences, but is able to sing the national anthem — his favorite song — because his parents would sing it to him every night.

Interestingly, the behind-the-scenes of this story resembles that of another, one-day story I did in Atlanta. It was the first time I got to spend a significant amount of time just hanging out with a family in their home, and it started out a bit awkwardly. First, they hadn’t been expecting me. Then they asked what they should do for me and my camera, to which I answered that they should just carry on with their day and I’d be as much of a wallflower as possible.

It worked out, much to my astonishment, and I’ve since relished every minute of being a wallflower.

With this story, the Breaults had indeed been expecting me, but they were a little uncertain in front of the camera at first. They soon warmed up, however, and were extraordinarily gracious and open as I tagged along with them to the ice cream shop, Andrew’s therapy and a pre-bedtime run to McDonald’s.

I can say this about any number of families and individuals I’ve met in York, but I’m so thankful, as a photojournalist and as a human, that so many people are as welcoming and wonderful as they are.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Bill’s story and the full slideshow of photos.

Thanksgiving 2012

Tonight was my second consecutive year on the Thanksgiving Day shift. It started with turkey and ended with shopping, and I imagine that’s pretty much how this blessed day will be in the foreseeable future.

© 2012 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Volunteer Tina Yeager serves a plate of Thanksgiving dinner to Betty Shawver, 82, who came to the event with her brother-in-law Dave Baughman, 83, and her son Craig Edwards, right, on Thanksgiving Day on Thursday, NOv. 22, 2012, at St. Stephen’s United Church of Christ. A group of 10 friends, calling themselves the “Thanksgiving Dinner Committee,” organized a second annual Thanksgiving dinner for shut-ins and the West York community. Organizer Jean Firestone said volunteers roasted nine turkeys and made 150 pounds of mashed potatoes in anticipation of about 100 people coming to St. Stephen’s United Church of Christ, which offered a venue for the event.

© 2012 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. For the third year in a row, Bobby Brunner of York is camping in a tent outside Re-Source York on Carlisle Avenue for his foundation “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” and to gather donations for the needy. Brunner began camping on Monday, Nov. 19, and plans to do so through Sunday, Nov. 25.

© 2012 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Fran Monbray of West York and her daughter Stefanie Moyar of Spring Garden Township react after finding a Thomas the Tank Engine figurine for less at the West Manchester Township Toys R Us than it is on Amazon.com, on Thanksgiving night on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012. Moyar said she is shopping for her son and two nieces, and has spent the past week comparing ads. Big box stores have extended Black Friday sales into Thanksgiving night, encouraging shoppers to have early Thanksgiving dinners, study ads, get in lines or all of the above.

Yesterday’s election was the first presidential election I’ve covered as a photographer: In 2008, I wasn’t even halfway through my political reporting stint in the Missouri statehouse. But I’ve covered elections in York County before — in fact, I think my second day on the job at The Daily Record was a primary election night — and yesterday, I went all over the place.

© 2012 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. D.L. “Lucky” Wright departs his polling place at Princess Street Center in York after voting in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.

One thing to note about covering elections in Pennsylvania: Photographers are not allowed to make pictures inside polling places. I’m not sure how a photographer could intimidate or influence a voter in a way that the political candidates and volunteers right outside polling places can’t, but I’m pretty sure that we’re missing out on a lot of neat pictures inside those doors.

© 2012 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Stephen Kline holds the door open for Tricia Dashnaw as they enter Dover Fire and Hose Company to vote in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.

I was assigned to start working at noon, so I missed out on the early-morning lines and crowds… but I did catch a line further north in the county in the evening.

© 2012 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Jim Spontak, Nicole Hudson and her daughter Jenee, 4, Rick Shaffer and Kim Frischkorn wait in line to vote in the general election at the Newberry Township Municipal Building on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. They said they had been waiting in line for 15 minutes already, and poll workers estimated it would be a 45-minute wait.

And, finally, a friend has for several months waited for me to share my favorite election day photo. Here it is, David:

© 2012 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News. Jenn Klimchock holds the door of Zion Lutheran Church open for her husband Tim, daughter Emma, 8, and son Jack, 4, after voting for the general election in Manchester Township on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.

Photographing Mario on election day? If you’re not covering the actual presidential campaigns, working on election day doesn’t get much better than a kid still wearing his Halloween costume.

Be sure to check out all the photos we YDR photographers produced yesterday in this slideshow.

I honestly don’t know if this was THE strangest damage attributable to Hurricane Sandy, but it was the strangest that any of us encountered:

Awning from a neighboring mobile home flew off and sailed this rod into the wall of Carolyn and Kendall Coleman’s mobile home around 9:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in the Tall Oak Estates mobile home park in Dover Township, York County, Pa. Carolyn Coleman, 69, who has lived in this home with her husband for 13 years, said she had been in the other end of the mobile home when “the trailer shook and then I heard the bang and then the crash.” After commenting she wouldn’t be able to replace the wallpaper and the shattered mirror — which she has had for 13 years — she and her husband joked about keeping the rod in place and using it to store toilet paper.

Good thing neither Carolyn nor Kendall was using the toilet when this happened. Here’s a closer look:

© 2012 by The York Daily Record/Sunday News.

You can read more about the mess in the Dover Township area here, and view all our Sandy-related photos here.

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