I have always enjoyed visiting new places and, more or less, living life by the seat of my pants, but I’m happy to to stop, breathe and take in the sights… for once.

I drove through Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California last month, enroute to Washington after three years in Baton Rouge.

Sometimes when I’m driving, I can feel my heartbeat coming through my t shirt. It is soft and rhythmic. The feeling is unsettling. My own mortality is gently beating under a thin piece of cloth, wrapped in a couple layers of flesh, cruising across state lines at 80 mph as semi trucks and other death mobiles weave in and out of traffic for 3,000 miles.

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‘Very special people’

“I just want to thank you because you’re very, very special people. You were here long before any of us were here — although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas. But you know what? I like you. Because you are special.”

~ President Donald Trump to two WWII veterans and Navajo code talkers Continue reading

Zydeco music: How I learned to love it

Louisiana is maybe one of the few places where the accordion is taken seriously, not merely as some kitsch novelty in a hipster band.

There was a comic from a while ago:

“Welcome to heaven,” an angel says to newly arrived souls. “Here’s your harp.” The panel below, “Welcome to hell, here’s your accordion.”

I really like the accordion, actually. It’s such a bizarre instrument. But like it or not, it’s hard to take seriously, unless you’re a big fan of traditional European polkas. It looks and sounds so goofy.

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Odds and Ends: My photos that didn’t quite make Instagram in 2016

I tried to do more photography than ever in 2016, and for the most part I think I succeeded.

I made a resolution to take more photographs of people that year. To be bolder. More in your face. To tell better stories with my photos. To be more concrete and less abstract.

Looking back I made good on that resolution. Many of my photos in 2016 are filled with people. Continue reading

Exploring journalism with firearms

Don’t stop exploring. A camera is a firearm. Shoot well, write well. Some of the best knowledge I gained through college.

A bare bones M16 A4. This is the same rifle I was issued in the Army. Much like a camera, a rifle requires a lot of technical know-how to operate efficiently. This includes basic technique in posture, breathing, and grip, but also knowledge of the mechanics of firearms, including trajectory, muzzle velocity, and sighting.

This spawned from a brief college workshop with Bettina Hansen, a photographer at The Seattle Times, and Josh Trujillo, a photographer at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. If you’re in a creative jam, Hansen said, pick up a new device or a new medium and learn something new. For me, that device was a DSLR camera.

I’d owned cameras in the past, but never seriously considered pursuing photography. Prior to Hansen’s class, my technique (if you want to call it that) was to snap as many pictures as I could and sort through the ones I didn’t like. It was the same effect as shooting a 50-meter target with a shotgun as opposed to a long-barreled rifle.

Cameras are technical the same way firearms are. This was something Trujillo had told us. To shoot well with either, you must have good posture and know-how of the mechanics behind the device. Simply snapping (or firing off rounds) is a sure way to fail.

The technical knowledge I gained from Hansen and Trujillo planted a seed that developed into a passion. I learned how to make good pictures (sometimes), by finding the right angle to line up the shot, the right source of light, and the right ratios on the camera.

A year into photography and I found the same technical approach can be applied to writing.

As journalists, we are trained to mash the subject and the conflict together until they peter out into a conclusion; to beat the story into submission, like a butcher tenderizing meat. This is the core lesson of most early news writing classes. Reporters suck in every sight, sound, and word that they can and then regurgitate it onto a Word document.

But this takes away from the artistry of writing. After it’s done so many times it’s not even fun. It’s the equivalent of a shotgun blast, or a hells-chance blast from a machine gun. It‘s messy.

As with shooting a photo, or shooting a target, it takes focus, concentration, and most importantly, skill.

New Orleans photo field trip

New Orleans is only about an hour south of where I live. I’ve only been there twice, and yesterday was the second time.

I didn’t know where else to go, so me, my girlfriend and her siblings spent our evening in the French Quarter. Honestly, I don’t think there’s anywhere else I would have wanted to go.

The French Quarter is beautiful. It’s everything I love about city life. It’s nice to escape the big “box stores” and strip malls that surround our residence in Baton Rouge and see some true Southern culture.

I took well over 200 photos. The ones I liked best are below. (I used my Canon Rebel, but I ended up playing around with the pictures quite a bit on  Snapseed, VSCOcam and Hipstamatic. Hipstamatic is a bit gimmicky, but occasionally it works, and very well too.)