Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Age is Beauty

I've been working on getting together some photos I took during a trip to the local retirement community here in Harrisonburg. I hung out with the old folk for a day, watching them do everything from playing bingo to shucking corn. The photos will hopefully run as a photo page in the paper in a few weeks. My favorite two portraits from the day are shown below. I'll have to post some more action shots at a later date.

Originally uploaded by emster214.

Originally uploaded by emster214.

Friday, July 22, 2005

July 23rd

On July 23rd, 1996, Kenny drove drunk at speeds of over 100 mph, eventually crashing head-on with another vehicle. He wasn't wearing a seatbelt, and the impact ejected him through the back windshield of his car where he bounced off the spoiler, landing 60 feet down the road. Kenny is now a paraplegic.

On July 23rd, 2000, Kenny's friend Jennifer was shot by the boyfriend of the woman she was living with. The shell exploded in her neck and spine, leaving her paralyzed from just above the waist all the way down. She was 18.

On July 23rd, 2004, Jennifer married a man she thought would always be there to support her. He stayed by her side through various surgeries and recoveries. But she hasn't heard from him now in five days.

Tomorrow, on July 23rd, 2005, these three anniversaries will occur, and these people will remember the days their lives were changed forever.

Today I had the privilege of meeting and photographing both Jennifer and Kenny. It's days like today that make me love what I do as a photographer, and it's days like today that make me immensely thankful for the health I have and the family I was born into.

Jennifer is currently living in a local motel with her pitbull Rose. She lives by herself in a wheelchair with the help of a visiting nurse once or twice a day. She is 23 and has already suffered through a shooting, paralysis, numerous surgeries, a failing marriage, a miscarriage, and unbearable physical and emotional pain. Her income is about $520 a month, derived from a Social Security and Medicaid check. Her bedsore has hung around for the last few months, and is bad enough to prevent her from having a real job. The last five years of her life have been spent being disappointed in the people she thought were her friends, and adjusting to the reality of a disabled life.

"I can deal with it or be miserable for the rest of my life. I have to deal with it," Jennifer says repeatedly.

Kenny is able to exercise a little more independence than Jennifer. He drives a car using only his hands, with controls he rigged himself. He has adapted to wheelchair life with a matter-of-fact perspective that comes from reflection over the last 9 years.

"It's probably a good thing I'm paralyzed," he says. "If I wasn't, I'd most likely be in jail or dead. Probably 75% of my friends ended up that way."

Being in a wheelchair, however, hasn't exactly prevented the jail time completely. In April, Kenny was picked up for various drug possessions and a handgun possession. The cops also found his marijuana plants which Kenny claims he grew purely for the medicinal effect.

Both Jennifer and Kenny swear by marijuana to ease their frequent muscle spasms and neuropathic pain.

"Nothing else works like that does," Jennifer says. "If marijuana were legalized, I would only have to take a small fraction of the pills I take now."

She takes 35 pills a day, the majority of which are for pain management. She keeps the narcotics in a small safe so no one will steal them.

Jennifer spends her days in the dark motel room, with her dog Rose as a sole companion.

"If I didn't have her, I probably wouldn't be alive today," she says in all seriousness.

She rolls her wheelchair outside to smoke an occasional cigarette, and to let the dog out. "My days are hell."

Goals for Jennifer include getting into a new rehab program at the local hospital, and being fitted for some leg braces. She has plans to complete a two-year program in graphic design.

Kenny says he gave up drinking a few months ago, and drugs just recently. His focus now is on getting past his legal difficulties, and moving on. He wants to learn drafting at a local college.

**Note: this is a true story according my interpretation. These quotes are from my memory only - not any notes I took. For the (more complete) real news story written by the reporter who accompanied me, see The Daily News-Record's website tomorrow.

**Note#2: Update on July 23rd. I just checked the DNR's site myself, and I guess they didn't run the story today. But it should happen sometime this week.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Jennifer was shot 5 years ago by the boyfriend of the woman she was staying with. She now lives by herself with the help of a visiting nurse in a local motel with her pitbull Rose.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Jennifer's pitbull Rose pauses from chewing on her toy to look up at the camera. In the background, Jennifer and Kenny sit in their wheelchairs. They were both injured on July 23rd, but of different years. Tomorrow marks the anniversary of their paralysis.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

My Faith in Humanity Restored...

I was the recipient of a random act of kindness this weekend.

It's not too often that this sort of thing happens, and even rarer is the time when I am on the lucky receiving end. As most of you might know, I have a Flikr account where I store my photos. It also allows me to post them to my blog. Within the site, you can look at other people's photos, make comments, add contacts, etc, etc. Signing up for Flikr is free. However, opening a pro account is not free, but with a pro account you get added bonuses like extra storage space and access to nude photos. (I'm kidding about the last one - just checking to see if you're still awake.)

So the random act of kindness came when a complete stranger purchased for me a pro account. Keep in mind this is like receiving a $25 gift from a person I've never met, never contacted, never heard of before in my life. Crazy huh? I sent him a Flikr message thanking him for his generosity, and here's what he replied:


It is my pleasure - really. As you can tell, I was more than a little impressed by your photography. (I have never given a gift like this before...)

You have a very very good eye, a sensitivity, a sense of photography, and sense of humour too, all of which together are very rare indeed - in all of flickr! (Now, don't let that get to your head or anything).

Anyway, I just hope you enjoy your year, and continue to enjoy sharing your discoveries with us.



You can check out his pictures here.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Smooched by Llamas and I Lived to Tell About It

It's been a fun week. Never before have I been both mauled by a dog and kissed by a llama. At least not in the same day.

Thursday I had an assignment to photograph a lady who owns Tralfamadore Farms in Broadway, Va. She raises angora goats, llamas and sheep (among other animals), and then shears them and spins all the wool. I drive up to the farm on a long gravel road, and upon opening my car door, am immediately jumped by a very LARGE dog. Did I say it was a large dog? And seriously psycho. Like I open my door just a crack and the next thing I know it's scrambling for a spot on my lap. The dog probably isn't expecting such a bony lap target, but he remains pretty undeterred. I'm not sure how this lady feels about me kicking her dog, so I try shutting the car door on him instead. Doesn't work either, seeing as how both front paws are securely fastened to my thighs. I can see the lady I want to shoot (ha! both with a camera and something else by now) standing outside my car, snickering a bit while calling to the dog, but it just doesn't seem to be working. At some point, I shove the dog and actually make it to a standing position beside my car when I'm nearly knocked flat by the stupid dog again. This time he leaves a calling card - muddy paw prints on my white shirt. Nice.

"Next time he does that, just kick him," the lady calls out. Thanks for the tip. Could've used it like five minutes ago.

We meet, and take a little tour of the farm. Suddenly there's like a pack of llamas descending from their barn/shed thing. (Pack, herd, tribe, band, bevy, what the heck do you call more than a few llamas? I actually googled "animal congregations" and found everything from a prickle of porcupines to a bloat of hippopotamuses, but alas no llamas.)

“Now they’ll want to come sniff you out, so just stand still with your hands behind your back and let them kiss you,” she says.

Umm excuse me? Llama mouths are just about last on my list of acceptable things to touch my lips, right after lip gloss and Johnny Depp. “Umm... okay. As long as they don't spit on me."

"Oh no, they're friendly llamas."

I stand motionless and receive my llama kisses from about five llamas at once. A bit of a strange feeling, these llama kisses. More like hot stinky animal breath and tickly whiskers (do llamas have whiskers?!?) all over my face.

Anyway, I got some good pics from the whole ordeal. Here are a few of them for your viewing pleasure.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Sheep and goats are just a few of the many animals raised on Tralfamadore Farms in Broadway, Va.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
A peacock sits on the fence at Tralfamadore Farms in Broadway, Va.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
A curious goat sniffs out the camera during a visit to Tralfamadore Farms in Broadway, Va.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Hand-dyed handmade yarn rests on a small table in the workroom of Nancy Slye, the owner of Tralfamadore Farms in Broadway, Va.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Greetings from Mulletville

Hello from the heart of Nascar country. I'm beginning to learn firsthand about the cult following this spectator "sport" garners around here. However, I'm still confused as to what the actual attraction is.

Saturday I had a photo assignment at a new speedway that had just been built in Shenandoah, Va. Whew-weee it's a whole different world out there. I've never seen such a congregation of mullets in my entire life. Anyway, it was just stockcar racing, not the full-blown Nascar stuff, but you'd think these people had seen the Second Coming of Christ for the way they cheered.

I arrived a few minutes before six, the time I was supposed to be there. I parked my car in the clay dirt (no parking lot here) and followed the crowd through the gate. Tickets were 15 bucks for this sucker! 15 bucks to watch cars go round and round in circles on a track. Unbelievable. But, a nice smile and a big camera got me through the door. I've discovered pretty quickly I don't even need a press pass - people just trust me when I say I'm with the newspaper and let me through. It's a good thing, because I don't even have a press pass. (Side note - I'm also realizing that being "media" means some people want to meet you and make a good impression because you supposedly have this thing called influence. So I shook hands with the guy running for governor of Virginia and his posse.)

Apparently, everyone arrives at these things like an hour early. The actual driving of cars didn't even start until 7:30, after a grueling hour and a half of announcements, a parade including the new two-year-old Miss Baby Virginia, invocation, national anthem, wetting the track, drying the track, yada, yada, yada. Can I just say, those cars are LOUD. No one ever told me I might want to bring some earplugs, but everyone else seemed to know. I saw some funny looking earmuff things too... don't know what those were.

Anyway, here are a few of the pictures that ran in the paper Monday.

Originally uploaded by emster214.

Originally uploaded by emster214.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
A lone spectator crouches by the fence as he waits for the stockcar race to begin at the new speedway in Shenandoah, Va.

Monday, July 11, 2005

I've Been Tagged!

Well, I've now officially been tagged by amazing-gracey so here are my answers. I guess that means I have to tag some people too, so ha ha! take that.

Total volume of music files on my computer: 7.73 gigs. Yikes! Looks like it's about time for an iPod. (hmm... my birthday's coming up in like, um, 6 months.)

The last CD I bought: Coldplay's newest CD, X&Y Duh!

Song playing right now: Well, I'm listening to my iTunes songs in random order and it looks like, yup, I've landed on Kenny Chesney's She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy. That's some quality stuff there, boy oh boy.

Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me: Okay I know this is a strange selection, but these are some of the songs with the highest play counts in my iTunes, so I guess that means I listen to them the most. In no particular order we have:

1. I Believe (acoustic version), Blessid Union of Souls
2. Walking in Memphis, Marc Cohen
3. Hallelujah, Rufus Wainwright
4. The Blowers Daughter, Damien Rice
5. Ms. Jackson, Outkast (I have to admit, this one kinda surprised me)

Five people to whom I'm passing the baton:

1. Sea of Steve
2. The Ever-Changing Name of Rachel's Blog
3. Diseuse
4. Sanguine Aspirations
5. The Secret Life of a Trailblazer

Okay, guys, knock yourselves out.

A long lost photo from last week

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Here's "Doc. McConnell," a medicine man I met last weekend at the fair/festival I went to while at home. There were quite a few re-enactments and people dressed up and such, and ol' Doc here was my favorite.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Pics of the week (pics=picks ha!)

Originally uploaded by emster214.
My cousin Savannah, age 3.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
A recent thunderstom leaves a saturated scene on the outskirts of Harrisonburg, Va.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Sunlight glints off piece of broken glass in the window of an abandoned home in Harrisonburg, Va.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

I Got Skills

Since this blog is mine, and it's about me, I thought I'd use this post to brag on myself a little bit. This is not something I like to do often, mind you, but what the heck. Okay, so my recent accomplishments include (in no particular order):

1. I successfully shot skeet.
2. I successfully shot my first photos picked up by the AP wire.

I also successfully spelled successfully, but we won't count that.

Anyway, "shooting skeet" (for you big-city folk) refers to brightly colored clay "pigeons" (disks) that, with the help of a flinging device, you fling into the air and shoot at with a shotgun. I'm pretty sure that "flinging device" isn't correct terminology, but I'm new to this too so you'll have to excuse me. So, I, having never fired a real gun before, hit these small clay disks flying at substantial speed through the air. Okay, actually I just hit one, but still... It wasn't just a small target, it was a small moving target.

As for accomplishment #2 on my list, let me explain. I took pictures took to go with a story about the local fish kills in the Shenandoah River. It's a pretty big issue around here, because all the fish are dying and it's hurting the fly fishing industry among others. So the story, accompanied by my pictures, made front page news here. One of the girls I work with submitted my photos to the AP unbeknownst to me, and then when I came to work yesterday she showed me how to look on the AP server to see if my stuff had been picked up. And it had. All five shots, so that was cool. I get paid for them too, $5 per photo. I know, it's not much, but hey! it's more than I've made all summer. AND my photos could appear in your newspaper, if your paper was so inclined.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Happy 4th!!

Originally uploaded by emster214.
A photo from my friend's wedding I attended this weekend in Boone, N.C. I didn't shoot the wedding, just went as a guest, so this is probably the only picture you'll see.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
A bee sucking (or grabbing or whatever they do) pollen from a flower in Jonesborough, TN.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
A yummy bowl of cherries.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Attack of the Napkin Nazi

I realize I've been unusually wordy these past few days, but I will indulge the photo-side of me again soon I promise. Just let me tell another story.

Today I drove back from VA to TN to attend a wedding this weekend. The only important part of this interesting tidbit is that it led me to stop at Dairy Queen for lunch. Dairy Queen for me is road-trip food. Hot Eats, Cool Treats you know what they say...

Anyway, so I went inside and ordered a burger, fries, and a Blizzard. You can't eat at Dairy Queen without a Blizzard, trust me. All of this was fine and normal until I sat down at a table and began eating. I made it perhaps 3 bites into my cheeseburger with one measly pickle when an elderly lady waiting for her food ambled over to an empty booth by way of my table. Mid-stride, she snatched my single extra napkin OFF THE TRAY IN FRONT OF ME!!

"I just need a napkin," she explained apologetically, and proceeded to sit down at a nearby booth.

WHAT!?! This is a seemingly nice old lady, no doubt someone's grandmother, swiping a clearly-going-to-be-used napkin at Dairy Queen from a stranger. Who does that?

It was so bizarre, I just stopped chewing and let her take it. Not that I had much choice, but I certainly didn't put up a fight. (From the needy-napkin look in her eye, she probably would've won.)

But she had to have seen me since she spoke directly to me. Granted, I am a rather thin individual and I don't take up much space, but I'm pretty sure I was planning on spilling enough ketchup on enough body parts to warrant a second napkin. I had two napkins, mind you, one on my lap and one on the table. Not an excessively wasteful stack, just two.

She was an older lady, but quite capable enough to walk the extra 5 feet (yes, 5 feet I tell you!) to the counter where containters full of napkins sat just waiting to give, give, give. Heck, she could have asked me to retrieve them for her. But stealing ONE? Unheard of.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Me, Applying for a Photo Processing Store Job

"Okay. I think I've finished it now." I hand the manager my completed job application.

"Alright. Well, while you're here, we might as well get you to fill out this other form," she says, quickly producing another page from thin air.

Me - blank stare. She passes me a math test. No joke. A Xeroxed math test.

I can't help it. I laugh out loud. Now its her turn for the blank stare.

"I'm sorry, I've just never gotten one of these before when applying for a job," I lamely explain.

I take a deep breath, and begin the test. Only it's not a true math test because I'm lacking a #2 pencil and a calculator, plus I'm standing up. I wonder if I'll need an eraser.

The first eight questions are addition and subtraction. 147+289=? 152-13=? You get the idea.

The next two questions are percentage questions. It's starting to get a little tougher, but luckily that 3rd-grade math comes trickling back to me. 20% of 120? 30% of 250?

Then I come to the question which under normal circumstances would have ruined me. Which direction is Staunton from Harrisonburg? North, south, east or west? Lucky for me, the place of business I'm standing in is in Staunton, and the place where I'm living in Harrisonburg, and I just drove on the interstate SOUTH to get here. Score!!

Number 12 is a little tricky. How many days are in a year? 365, of course, but just to be on the safe side I write underneath in small letters "or 366, if it's Leap Year." Can't be too sure. I don't want to slip up on a technicality.

The final two questions are the important parts, clearly designed to take my math aptitude to the next level. If Stan orders 3 prints of negative #7, 14 prints of negative #10, and 9 prints of negative #3, how many total prints should he be charged for? And the classic... If Betsy buys one item priced at $14.89 and one item priced at $7.99, not including sales tax, what is the amount of Betsy's total purchase?

My question is this: What kind of people is this test weeding out? I mean, yikes.

And hypothetically speaking, what if I got all the questions right except for the days in a year question? Would I still get hired? I can't imagine that there are many jobs where knowing that 365 days= 1 year is particularly pertinent to one's survival skills.

By the way, this is a completely true story. In math terms, that's 100%.