Great Transformations

One of the great things about my job is the people that I meet along the way. This last week I was able to shoot an assignment for Prison Fellowship, a non-profit that helps inmates transform their lives.

So I travelled to Wichita, KS to spend time with Butch Beckwith and his family. Butch was sentenced to prison for seven years for drug charges. I won't tell his entire story here, but through God and the help of Prison Fellowship he has truly transformed himself. My time hanging out with him and his kids and wife was some of the most rewarding I have had in some time.

Butch's relationship with his kids is great, his career is growing and his faith is rock solid. It's impressive to say the least considering where he was 10 years ago. It's nice to be able to help organizations like Prison Fellowship spread the word about their good work.

Memorial Day....

In the waning moments of today's holiday I am sitting here in bed, thinking about this day. Fran and I blew off a lot of things that needed to be done, and instead did a lot of things we wanted to do. Mostly we worked in the yard. Did a little maintenance and then proceeded to finish a lot of projects that we have been working on.

It all turned out beautifully and when we were done instead of jumping in the shower and kicking back to look out at our work, we went next door and helped the neighbors who are leaving fora big trip and trying to get everything done before they leave. All four of us knocked the work out and then kicked back for pizza and beers as the last bit of light left the sky.

Lots of people do lots of different things on this holiday. Most don't understand it's meaning. Sure, they are aware of the holiday, aware of why celebrate it and even vaguely aware of the sacrifice of young men and women. For most of my life, I was the same. Then two years ago, late at night in mid-April I received a call telling me that Cpl Ray Michael Bevel had been killed in action in Iraq. Ray, my cousin on my father's side, was a sweet boy, soft-spoken and kind-hearted. Even though I saw him just months before his death, I mostly remember him as the goofy kid with the big ears. A boy my father called Ray-Bird. I boy who loved to help others.

When I look back to his funeral I remember the thousands upon thousands of people lining the streets of small town West Texas as we brought his body home from the airport. Some had small
flags, some stood stoic and watched at the line of dark sedans and limos passed them by. Others were awash in tears and emotion. I would guess that very few of them knew Ray personally. It was a hard thing to go through for our family and of course for Ray's parents and siblings.

I could go on for a long time about that weekend. It was an amazing show of support. The most amazing thing was the outpouring of support from my uncle's neighbors there in Andrews. The way they cared for him and his family when they needed it was uplifting in more ways than I can say.

So when I look back on today, I can't imagine a more fitting way to celebrate this holiday than to take a few hours to help out a neighbor.

Life is Work. Work is a Blast.

This weekend I made my semi annual trip to Jasper, AR to ride motorcycles with a few friends. Actually it has grown to a bit more than that. It's really a full blown rally these days, but it still has a close knit group of folks who enjoy riding some beautiful roads, tossing back a few by the campfire at night and tell stories old and new.

In years past I have blogged about the bacon and french toast at the Ozark Cafe or the scenic views or the amazing roads. But this go round I have a little different perspective: I have an amazing life.

As I sat on the side of the road an old Pontiac came by carrying a canoe on a few old rolls of carpet. I laughed as it meandered around the blind corner. It reminded me of a buffalo rambling through a forest filled with nimble deer. Not belonging at all but not bothered by it at all either. As the car came nearer the sound of the 455 filled my ears and I saw behind the steering wheel a man late in years, grey of hair, long of beard with a grin that warmed my heart. I imagined him arriving at the river and plunging into the river head first the cold water soaking his worn white v-neck shirt and cut off Levis before even unloading the canoe and floating away alone. Windows down on the Bonneville, keys under the seat, a brown wrinkled paper sack with lunch stowed in the boat.

I have always admired people who give off that feeling of freedom. Those who live life on their terms. Those who can do as they choose. But the more I live this life of a freelancer, the more I realize I am closer to that dream than I know.

No doubt there will be times when I am scared about money or security or buying new gear or fixing old gear or whatever. But the fact is I can now really be who I have always been; a photographer, an adventurer, a motorbike rider and yes... even a bit of a writer.

So here's to the road in front of us all. Enjoy it while you can. We can only hope that the pavement is smooth, the curves plenty, the sky blue and at the end of it all.... the river cool and clear.

Ten years....

Lately I have been sending out a lot of emails touting my experience as a photojournalist, the time I have put into my craft, the things I have seen, the variety of assignments I have taken. 

In almost every one, I round out my experience in the field to "nearly a decade." Up until this morning I didn't spend much time thinking about what that past decade meant. I have certainly covered some pretty amazing stories in my relatively short career, and I expect to cover just as many in the future. 

But today, as I walked into a gas station along the turnpike, a grainy, dark image of a massive tornado caught my eye on the front cover of one of the state's daily papers. It took me a minute to really catch the drift of the headline and then it hit me. 

One decade ago today I was a student at the University of North Texas and I was scrambling around campus trying to find someone to skip class and go with me to Moore, Okla. to cover the massive damage inflicted by a series of tornadoes that sprung up across the state. 

I couldn't find anyone to go with me, so I fueled up my truck (a 1979 Ford F100) and headed north on Interstate 35. When I got there I hit the streets, found ways to sneak into the damaged areas and went to work covering what was the biggest story of my then very short career as a college journalist. I spent three days in Moore, camping in my truck alongside the giant broadcast rigs and rented camper buses of the major papers. I slept in the front seat of that old Ford and, as with all the other major disasters I have covered since, lived on water, peanut butter and granola bars. 

I wasn't nearly the journalist then as I am now, and the photos show that. But the things I saw, the stories I heard and the journalists I watched set in stone for me my path for the next ten years of my life. It was a great ten years.
So many things have changed. I am looking across my dining room now and marveling at the camera that I used to make the images. Yes, I still have it, it's on the "antique" shelf, along with the rest of my film cameras. Which is why the first photo has text on it. The only digital copy I have was used as a cover image for my portfolio for years afterwards. I still have the negatives somewhere with the rest of my college stuff. It makes me wonder what I would find if I dusted off an old loupe and looked through them. Who knows what I have already forgotten.