Queen for a Day

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a project I was super jazzed about. But I had one earlier this month, and I figure these are good images to break the dry spell with.

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I spent a few days in late June and early July following the three young women on the St. Paul Rodeo Court. After meeting them at a function earlier in the week, we got to talking about their schedule on the first day of the rodeo. They planned to wake up at 2 am, get in full hair and makeup, get their horses ready, start TV interviews… and that was only until 10 am. They still had afternoon appearances and the opening night of the rodeo to ride in. I knew I wanted to be there in the early hours of the morning as they got ready, and, after asking me if I was serious, they happily agreed to let me join them early in the morning. So on Friday I got up at 3 am and drove to St. Paul.

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I spent much of the day with the court, their families, and members of the rodeo, and over the course of that nearly 20-hour day I learned a lot. Yes, about horses and rodeos, but also about family and community. St. Paul is a small town that hosts the nation’s largest Fourth of July rodeo, and it was a treat to get a glimpse of the hard work that everyone pours into the event. Including the court.

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The three young women – Melanie, Morgan and Britney – are smart and funny, hardworking and dedicated. Being on the court is more than looking pretty and waving. They needed exceptional horsemanship skills, a large knowledge base of rodeo history, and the ability to work a crowd and make conversation with everyone from the smallest fans to the oldest community members.

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Watching the camaraderie between the three – who met when they tried out for the court, and have now spent months together traveling across the state – was great fun. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention how welcoming their families and friends were; the court continuously told me they couldn’t have done the job without their family. I can see why.

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In short, I couldn’t have asked for a better group to work with. There are always things I wish I could improve on, always things I wish I’d done better. But I came away excited again about work and making images, and that is such an invaluable feeling.

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Sawasdee from Thailand

It’s been two months since I last updated this blog, and a lot has changed. For starters, I’m writing this from a town called Keng Tung in the Shan state of Myanmar (Burma, to the Western world) (also Kyaing Tong, Chiang Tung, or something else, depending on who you ask).

I left New Jersey a month ago for a new job. I was offered a summer position working for a travel company called Rustic Pathways, and I’m spending three months in Southeast Asia photographing and leading some of their tours through the region. The job combines a few things I’m passionate about: traveling, teaching and photography. After a week of staff training, I spent two weeks at the company’s Thailand base houses in Udon Thani and Mae Sariang, where travelers complete service projects like building local homes and teaching English to local children. I can say hello in Thai (sawasdee ka!) and I’m working on my Burmese (sounds like: min ga la ba).

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It’s been an incredible opportunity so far, and the whirlwind has only just begun. Two days ago I left the base houses to begin leading a trip of my own. Myself and another photographer, along with our fantastic local staff, are leading six students on a photography workshop across Burma and Laos. It’s early in the trip, but I’m looking forward to seeing them grow and learn more as the days go on.

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I’ve also recently passed my one year mark as a college graduate, and what a crazy year it’s been. Photographically speaking, last summer through the winter was a period of incredible growth for me. I made huge strides in my voice and style as a photographer that, for a long time, I was worried I would never make.

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The internship I did in Jersey is probably the hardest I’ve ever worked. But for all the pressures that came with it, I know that I learned a lot and grew even more. After six months I’d really started to feel connected to the community and confident that, when I showed up for an assignment, I could handle whatever came my way. It was tough to say goodbye to that. I don’t know when I’ll be working at a daily paper again, and when I do I’ll probably have to get to know another community all over again.

I was also shooting so much for myself, and in that way, there was less pressure there than there is here. As long as I met my slideshow counts and did a decent job, the office was happy. So I began to shoot to please myself, as I was sometimes the only one that cared if my images were pushing any boundaries or experimenting with my style. Now, I’m shooting for an editor again. The pressure is on to impress them and make sure that they are glad they chose me for such a great opportunity.

I suppose that’s typical of any new job. There’s always a break in period. I just won’t be getting any feedback until the job is done in August. For now, I haven’t shot anything that I totally love, but maybe it’s because I’m also setting the bar really high for myself. Here’s to hoping I rise to the challenge.

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Opportunities

They say good things come in threes. For me, it was two. But those two things have been so good they’d make up for any missing third.

In April, after months of applying for jobs and summer internships, I was offered two fantastic opportunities.

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The first was a two week long student journalism institute with The New York Times. I spent two weeks in Tucson, Ariz., working closely with other fantastic student journalists as well as editors from The New York Times.

I have been a part of several student programs during my four years in college, and this experience was one of the finest. Never before have I worked with such a talented group of young journalists, all of whom had exceptional skills and an unending passion for the industry. (For links to any of the stories, click on the pictures in this post)

Molly J. Smith/NYT Institute

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At the institute I had the opportunity to work on a photo story shadowing a public information officer for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. I learned a lot, but perhaps the most important lesson I learned was how valuable trust is.

PIO Tom Peine

PIO Tom Peine

As journalists we ask a lot of people. I asked a sheriff’s deputy to let me follow him around for three days; in the office, at the gun range, at a crime scene. They trusted me with sensitive information, and in turn I was able to witness important moments during his last days in office. If I hadn’t gained their trust — and continued to honor it — the story wouldn’t have been the same.

It’s a lesson I’m carrying to my second opportunity of the summer: an internship with The Oregonian in Portland, Ore. I’ve just finished up my first week, which is why this post is a little delayed, but I’m enjoying it. It’s nice to be back to shooting daily news again, and hopefully it will translate into more posts for this blog.

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PIO Tom Peine

 

New York Times Student Journalism Institute family.

New York Times Student Journalism Institute family.