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? 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.