my best of 2013

It’s usually a tradition for photographers to compile a collection of their best photographs from the past year. You look at your collection of work for an entire year and a lot of thoughts and memories dawn on you. Did you document it well enough? Did you do your job to the best of your abilities? Pastor Floyd Miles dips Justin Tate into the baptism pool at Mt. Salem Baptist Church on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, in Staunton. Miles, who commutes to the church on weekends from the Richmond area, had the tub installed when he started pastoring at the church. He has been a pastor there for almost 15 years.Hounds from Middlebrook Hunt Club gather at the gate before being let loose for the hunt on Wednesday, March 13, 2013 in Middlebrook. Most of the hounds used by local groups are Penn-Marydel hounds, in blue tick and black and tan variations.I usually hate looking at my own work. Photographers are inundated with hundreds of photographs every day, from other photojournalists in their newsfeeds doing amazing work, to beautiful photos on their Instagram feeds, to the photos flowing in on the AP wire. It’s hard not to compare yourself to others and often it can be a process of self-loathing.

Angus Carter's work was featured in Shenandoah Art's "40 Under 40" show, and he is also the director of Augusta Arts and the Unreal City gallery in Staunton. Carter moved away from Staunton after graduating from Robert E. Lee High School, tired of the small town and "country music," to study art in California. He returned at 22, though, missing the mountains, history, and bluegrass music.Boston Schilling and Clay Stockman walk with their sleds to Thornrose Cemetery to go sledding on Wednesday, March 6, 2013, in Staunton.But looking at my work from 2013 just reminds me of how much I’ve grown this year: how much I’ve grown to love Staunton, how I’ve grown as an adult (hey, I’m 23 now), how I’ve progressed in my career as a photojournalist, and how I’ve learned so much about this area’s culture.

It hasn’t been so much a process of self-loathing, but a flood of memories as each photograph takes me back to the moment in which they were taken, and how I felt documenting that moment. And, hey, I guess that’s what great photos are supposed to do, right? Document moments.

Kenny Will leans against a piece of feeding machinery to take a break before starting the day’s second milking on Saturday, April 6, 2013, at Mt. Crawford Creamery. Kenny and his brother, Frank, have spent the last three years and invested over a million dollars trying to open their own creamery. They say the creamery was a last-resort option to keep their farm afloat, as they say they were not earning enough money selling their milk for others to bottle. “By golly, if we’re going to stay in business we got to do something else or quit. We’re too old to quit and we’re too dumb to run a computer,” Kenny said.

Daniel Will and uncle Frank Will pull a calf into a trailer to move it to a larger pen on Wednesday, April 10, 2013 in Mt. Crawford. The Wills raise Holstein and half Jersey/Holstein cattle.So much has happened in 2013 for me, both professionally and personally. I was only living in Staunton for about two months when the year began, and now I have over a year under my belt. Not only do I now know how to navigate the county (OK, sort of), but I also feel like a part of this community. I’ve made close friends, I have bars I go to regularly (priorities, y'all), I know where the best food is, and, most importantly, I feel at home here.

Graduating embrace each other and spray silly string after the final formation during the Fishburne Military School commencement on Saturday, May 18, 2013, in Waynesboro.Kathleen Mullins gives kisses to kid Callie at her dairy goat farm, A Better Way Farm, on Tuesday, May 28, 2013, in Waynesboro. Mullins, who practices permaculture, said she and the goat have a special bond because she nursed her back to health when she was sick.I’ve done so much work for the News Leader — the career that is my answer to the question, “Why did you move here from Kansas City?” It makes coming here worth it. I’ve done multiple long-form stories, such as one on the culture of foxhunting, a project about the trials and tribulations of the Will family as they opened Mt. Crawford Creamery (now expanding!), a typical night at the classic Hull’s Drive-In in Lexington, and spent a few nights at local dirt tracks to delve into the safety of the sport.

Evan Day, 6, of Waynesboro exits the car while drivers wait to compete in time trials at the Eastside Speedway on Sunday, June 2, 2013, in Dooms. The drag races involved street cars, footbrake, super pro, motorcycles and dragsters.A man walks in front of the projector booth at Hull's Drive-In Theatre on Sunday, July 7, 2013, in Lexington. The theater converted to digital format last year, though it still has some old film reels in the projector booth.Of course, I also spent half the year documenting the story of Norah Mastrandea, her family and her slow goodbye — a story that taught me more about bravery, strength, grief and the impact of one person’s story than any other story I’ve ever worked on. And I’m so glad that the Mastrandeas and I have kept in touch since, sharing memories of Norah throughout day-to-day conversations in our newly found friendship.

Norah takes a nap in her favorite chair at home June 21. After radiation treatment, Norah’s hair starting growing back, but she still had a bald spot surrounding the scar from brain surgery.Colleen Mastrandea wraps Norah in a towel after bath time Aug. 20. From the moment her youngest daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor, Colleen spent much of her waking and sleeping moments with Norah. A nurse herself, the active mom knew the odds they fought, but kept positive and upbeat throughout their journey.Between all those long-form stories, I’ve worked on daily assignments. I’ve been there during my readers' children’s graduations, their high school soccer matches, or beautiful days spent at the Frontier Culture Museum. I’ve spent countless hours at summer league baseball games, church services, snow days, festivals, farms, and even fires. I’ve watched people celebrate victory over another team, or seen families watch their home engulf in flames. Every day at my job is a look at a slice of someone else’s story — and I do my best to document it respectfully.

Pilot and passengers float into the air with other hot air balloons during Lexington's 17th Annual Balloon Rally on Friday, July 5, 2013, on the parade grounds at the Virginia Military Institute. The balloon launches continue in the early morning on July 6.Douglas Glander moves a bine of hops aside during a hops harvest at Blue Mountain Brewery on Wednesday, August 7, 2013, in Afton. Members of the Old Dominion Hops Cooperative came together to help with the hop harvest at the brewery.2013 was crazy — it was a difficult year. I learned a lot about myself, and a lot about what is most important in life. I learned these lessons from being away from my family and my long-term boyfriend for a year, but also from the stories I told.

Patrons mill about the rides Tuesday, August 6, 2013, during the Augusta County Fair at Expoland in Fishersville. Tuesday was the first day of the fair, which will continue through Saturday.Spending time with subjects in a journalism capacity really shows you what’s essential — what sticks out when you sit down to edit down photos later, when you see the expressions and reactions on people’s faces. It teaches you a lot about life, and even more about what to value at the end of a very long day. I love that my job and the people whose stories I tell can teach me about my own life, and help me reflect on it to make me a better person.

Inmates and visitors can be seen on both sides of the glass in the visitation room at Middle River Correctional Jail on Friday, May 3, 2013, in Staunton. The visitation room has 18 booths where visitors and inmates can talk through plastic phones.