2017 Thus Far

      Working into January 2017 has allowed me to notch the one-year mark on my time in central Texas, and as always, it's bringing with it new learning experiences and challenges. Outside of spot news, the daily grind at a newspaper can get cyclical as you move through the seasons. You'll know the weather that might come through, the sports that will be played, and local school's annual events. With the knowledge of what has come before, it's important to not get stuck in the grooves you carved in the past and attempt to see things from a new perspective, maybe even explore places you haven't seen yet. My paper recently had some turnover of key newsroom staff, and while that brings some stress, it also brings in some new blood with fresh eyes to see the local community through. 2017 has been fruitful thus far, and hopefully my luck will continue throughout. The other half of the photo team at The Eagle once told me that it's better to be lucky than good. So now I'm just trying to utilize my experience to put myself in the position to have a little luck find me.

     So here are snapshots from things that I saw and places I've been since the beginning of 2017. Enjoy, please, and thank you.

2016: A Year of Growth

2016 was a year of massive change for me. After graduating in 2013 I was lucky enough to land a job that paid the bills, but did little else for me. I knew I was a photojournalist. It's all I could bear doing. I filled my time outside of work shooting, mostly high school sports with the very occasional freelance assignment, but I knew I was floundering. I was perpetually rusty in my craft, and shooting full time was the only way I saw to chip away at the rust. I also knew that the longer I continued sporadically freelancing, with mixed results, the less chance I would have at landing a full-time gig. I spent the better part of two years in that. So I made the decision to start looking for anybody to give me a shot. My portfolio was serviceable for a recent graduate, but I had very little experience, and after applying to countless jobs across the country, The Eagle took a chance on me. The beginning of 2017 marks one year since they gave me a shot. It marks one year since deciding to have a go at it. It marks one year since living and breathing photojournalism. And it's been the most professionally validating year of my life. 

Here's my favorite work from the last year, broken down into sections to try to make some kind of sense out of it all. 

Spot news:

 

Assignments:

 

Features:

 

Sports:

 

Portraits:

 

 

Looking back at my work from 2016 is a bit painful. I see rookie mistakes and missed opportunities, but as I read through the dates of the photos, I also see tangible progress. With the advantage of hindsight I can see that it took me a few months to get my feet under me, a few months to stop trying to be clever, and then a few months to begin finding my stride. I'm definitely not up to speed yet, but I'm at least not tripping over my own feet, and I'll take that. Here's to you, 2016. Amidst the turmoil, there was something to be had.

Your voice matters: Images from early December

I missed posting last week, but it's fine. The real meat of this update came last Tuesday when the eyes of the nation, still weary of the implications realized from the presidential election, focused on our town as the real-life internet troll named Richard Spencer did a speaking engagement on campus at Texas A&M. Spencer is widely regarded as being the man who coined the term “alt-right,” and while I don’t have the patience to open up that can of worms, the man comes across as genuinely racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic. The university, unwilling to nudge against freedom of speech, let the engagement go on, and instead of heeding to cries of many students, whipped up a counter-event, bringing in various musician and speakers to their no-cost “Aggie United” event right across the street from the Memorial Student Center, where the the speech was happening. Their heart was in the right place, but from what I heard, the counter-event was a flop, and the real show was the protesting happening outside, and, for a while, inside the MSC.

 

I was covering the protests, then ducked inside to cover the speak itself, but was culled back to the louder of the protests when I got a hot tip that police in riot gear were confronting protestors that made their way inside the building. I left the speech, and found myself behind a blockade of police, shields, batons, and rubber-bullet guns readied, systematically pushing the crowds back. The police were professionals about the whole situation, and I was awestruck at how courteous a few of them were to me while I worked my way into the crowd. At one point a row a police on bikes came in, surrounding me and the front line of shields. I felt a tug at my jacket, turned around and one of the bike officers simply said, “You don't want to be in the middle.” I shrugged and stepped behind him. I documented them pushing the crowd back with machine-like efficiency. Due to blocked hallways I wasn't able to get to the main entrance where they were bottle-necking and forcing out protestors, and I missed the shot of the night. A Houston Chronicle photographer, Brett Coomer, was there, and made what I feel was the most dramatic shot of the night as the police made their final push out the door. Three people were arrested.

 

Spencer went about his speaking engagement unabated, and the crowd eventually subsided. Within a few hours, they street was quiet again. Protestors made their point. A&M will probably vet out who they rent rooms to more carefully in the future. And all that was left was for the keyboard warriors to criticize media coverage. Nothing new there. It should be noted that there was a sizable silent protest that got very little attention or coverage. I wish I was able to document their protest more thoroughly, but when police are clashing with citizens, my lens must stay fixed on that situation.

 

The late night bled into an early morning, covering the 75 anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor at The Bush Library, where former president George H.W. Bush, former first lady Barbara Bush, and former Senator Bob Dole, all made an appearance. I thought the crowds at the protest were bad, but the media scrum in the only place to get a shot of Bush might have been worse.

 

Outside of that event, the last two weeks were a blur; most of which was actually spent driving the less-than-spectacular Texas highway system. Since Texas A&M football season is over, we've been in full-blown high school football playoffs mode. While the regular season can be monotonous, playoffs are a mixture of high-caliber teams, playing with brazen emotion. It took me a few games to really realize that many of these kids are playing what might be their final football games, and the further teams make it into the playoffs, the more they buy in to that do-or-die mentality. I was able to travel to the Prairie View A&M University stadium to shoot our local College Station High School team take on Marshall, the team that had just dispatched College Station's cross-town rival, A&M Consolidated, from the playoffs the week before. But College Station was a much bigger dog than Consol and ended Marshall's season. The glee on the players' faces shined through the images I shot.

It wasn't until the next week, when College Station fell to Calallen High School in a heart-wrenching loss, that I had to see the other side of that coin. My job is to document the moment, and in this case that meant getting a shot that showed the emotional tailspin that follows a tough, career ending loss. The guilt that I feel when pointing my lens at kids bawling feels slimy and voyeuristic, but my hope is that anybody who sees those images will empathize with the kids, and see that these kids, the seniors at least, have poured everything they had into the game, and now, abruptly, have to find a way to walk away from it.

Our paper has a tendency to not publish sad photos of local high school teams (handling them with kiddy-gloves as one copy editor says) but I submitted a sad shot anyway, simply because I felt it told the story best. By the time I got back into town that night, I was happy to see that copy desk placed it above the fold on A1. Maybe we got flak for that. I don't know. If at least one person saw that and felt for the kid, then I can sleep soundly.

 

Beyond that, I've been back to shooting Aggie basketball. The season is young and this year's team is working out the kinks against lower competition, but they look like they could have a decent run again this year. Overall, they are young, and lack the spark they had from a few senior that left last year, but hopefully they gel as the season wears on.

 

I was also able to shoot a little track and field, which, while a bit more boring than other sports, usually yields nice, clean shots. And all the while, nice little feature shot opportunities were sprinkled into the weeks. A Brigadier General kissed a pig, kids practiced putting on horse shoes, a man decorated the ever-loving hell out of his front yard for Christmas, and a local library put on a little ballet. People doing stuff. It never gets old.

 

As always, thanks for taking a look, and as a wise woman once told me, “If you can't be good, be safe.”

 

Tim

Football, Turkey, Football, Repeat. Nov. 22- Nov. 26.

Another week steeped in football, cute kids, and more Texas A&M traditions. This is a pretty good microcosm of the Aggieland experience. We started by finding some people that stayed from last week's A&M football game, essentially camping out through the week, to be around for the school's Thanksgiving game.

Next was a long drive to Cypress, Texas, to get some photos to run with a story about a local family of kids that were adopted into another family. All together there were seven kids, four of which went to one household, with the others living close by in Houston. It was a feel-good story for Thanksgiving, and although the family saw it as a photo-op, dressed in their best cloths, we made it work by suggesting they just do whatever they would do if I weren't there, just dressed better than normal.

I found myself in their very-little-girl fashioned bedroom as the younger two went nuts, as kids do. It dawned on me that my job can get pretty weird sometimes.

 

The next day I was off, in anticipation for the longer hours I would be pulling on Thanksgiving. As I milled around my apartment, I realized that we had no assignment to cover the Student Bonfire, put on by Texas A&M students the night before the regular-season finale football game. I wasn't sure why we weren't covering the event, but headed that way because, well, it was bound to make a great photo.

A few people have asked me what I do for fun when I'm not working, and the answer is always the same. Taking photos. I covered the bonfire because it seemed like low-hanging fruit, and maybe a little portfolio-filler. I got a shot and got out of there before being stuck in the muddy parking lot traffic that was bound to follow. I stopped by the office because I prefer editing at my desk, and low and behold, I found out that the newspaper did need photos from the bonfire. It all worked out.

Covering Texas A&M football was a big part of why I displaced myself from my comfortable existent in picturesque Colorado, so I wasn't planning on missing the season finale game against LSU, even if it meant being lonely on a holiday. A great photographer and better friend invited me over for an early dinner that wouldn't interfere with the game coverage, since he was covering it as well. The game was ugly, and my photos weren't great, but that's life as I know it. Being a night game, we didn’t leave the stadium til midnight, uploading a gallery afterward pushed my night well past that. I wasn't crazy about the idea of covering Black Friday the next morning, but that what happened. That assignment went better than expected as the people seemed pretty docile, and with so many potential subjects in a small area, getting people into the frame wasn't an issue. Getting people to give me their name was a little more of a task, though.

 

From there, I covered a local high school teams try at advancing in the state playoffs. It too was an ugly defeat for the locals. And finally, a trip to Houston to shoot another high school football game at NRG Stadium. It was my first time shooting at NRG. The light was great, the photo room comfortable and the game was exciting. Our local team lost, but at least it was a great game. The game started at 8 p.m., so it was another very late night by the time myself and the reporter got home, but at least Saturday would be easy. Pro tip: if you want your team to lose a football game, send me to cover it.

To bookend the week, I took a long overdue day to archive and clean up my computer. I only had one assignment down for the day and I wasn't itching for another, especially when I started to realize the mountain of archiving I still had to do. I really let that task get away from me and I paid for it. I'll still be paying for that next week, as I only got about half-way through that before having to head to an Aggie basketball game.

 

Week: done. Slept for about 12 hours on Sunday, and now I'm trying to figure out just what I have to do to stitch up my life for another week.

 

Until next time.

Tim

Late Nights Make for Great Memories

Here are a few of my favorites from the week of 11/15/2016 through 11/20/2016. The highlight of this week was an assignment that decimated my already shoddy sleep schedule, but it was worth it. It was a memorial for the Aggie Bonfire that collapsed in 1999, killing 12 students and injuring many others. The story is heart-wrenching in and of itself. The stack of wood collapsed at 2:42 in the morning, and so the annual memorial is held at the same time. being a somber memorial means no flashes. It pushed my cameras to their limit to get photos, so the images are outrageously noisy. I lucked out and ended up observing the ceremony next to a friend and former employee of The Eagle newspaper. She also happened to live in the dorms where three of the students that died in the collapse lived. She invited me to see her and a few friends that worked on that very bonfire, and personally knew the deceased, talk to kids that build the bonfire today. The assignment took me to about five in the morning, and the gallery it spawned wasn't put together until six. Then I had to go home and finish editing a video from the day before. Then I was able to grab a couple hours of sleep before my 11 a.m. assignment. Still, to see those kids pick the brains of some of the students that helped build a legacy, in the somber quiet of the early morning, was completely worth it. I feel blessed to have been a witness to that moment.

That assignment, as well as last week, helped me recoup some much needed creative vigor, and I think it showed in my work. I'm also lucky to be running into and working with great people, and having great photographers around me to learn from. I love seeing the work others are producing, and often wondering how I didn't think of those angles. 

Another week in the books. Now to catch up on some sleep, buy some groceries, do laundry, and generally piece together my life before it goes back into the meat grinder that is a photojournalist's life. It might be a drag if I didn't genuinely love the work so much.

 

It's been real,

Tim

Star Spangled Burnout

      Election Week: It's always going to be a stress-test for journalists. Although the local coverage of College Station, Texas was relatively easy, thanks largely to working in sync with great reporters and digital team at The Eagle, the entire night was overshadowed by national news. The unthinkable happened, and now the United States is going to led by a man who was hosting a reality television show just six years ago. We were dumbfounded, and the result was what I'll call “The face-palm heard round the world.” In the search for reasoning as the night was panning out, I heard two depressingly succinct and accurate takes. The first was from one of our reporters, who expressed that, if Trump wins, maybe America will be getting the president they deserve. In step with take was a quote I first heard from my editor while talking about Trump's stint in reality television. “We're living in a Kardashian world.” With a solemn toast to our futures, I sipped a glass of scotch and went to bed. I woke up Wednesday morning with what felt like a hangover, most of which I'm not attributing to the scotch.

      The immediate fallout from the election followed. Even here in the deeply red city of College Station, we had a protest. I was on campus at Texas A&M looking for just that and found one student standing alone at Rudder Plaza. Overall, it seemed quiet. Later that night in the office I heard about a protest on the scanner and headed back, only to arrive late to the seemingly short-lived gathering. I was forced to look at coverage from the school's student newspaper. Disheartening, to say the least.

      Preparing for Veterans Day was next up, and I think we were all ready to bury our heads in work and think about anything besides Trump. Luckily, Veterans Day brought with it plenty of photo-worthy events. Symbolic statues, reflective walls, 21 gun salutes and rows of pressed-uniformed vets make for great photos. And finally, to wrap up the longest week of my year, Texas A&M took on and lost a heart-breaker to one of their SEC rivals Ole Miss. It was military appreciation night, of course, so patriotism was in full swing there as well.

      I feel like this week was like playing photojournalist on “easy mode.” Photos were there for the taking, and injecting an image with symbolism is pretty strait forward when your surrounded by flags and people overwhelmed with emotions. My personal challenge for next week: no flag pictures. Let's see how long I stick to that.

 

And here are a few galleries from the week:

Corp of Cadets wreath-laying ceremony

 

Brazos Valley Veterans Memorial's Veterans Day Ceremony

Brazos Valley Veterans Memorial's Veterans Day Ceremony

 

 

 

 

As of Late

In an effort to continually push myself to become a better journalist, and keep a tact for writing, I'll be trying to update this blog regularly. While I'm out on assignment I try different things: weird angles, underexposure, shooting right into the light, and so on. The results usually suck, to be frank, but every once in a while something interesting comes out of it. While those images rarely seem portfolio-worthy, or even appropriate for representing a story, they can be interesting. My intention for this blog is that it can be a haven for some of those and other images that aren't deserving of pedestal treatment. Plus, this will let Mom know what I've been doing lately. Your probably the only one reading this, right Mom. Stay tuned. 

Hurst, out.