In February my friend Casey and I traveled to Port-au-Prince and Fond Parisien, Haiti, to do some work for an NGO called the Haiti Youth Relief Fund.
Casey had traveled with the group once before, but it was my first time in Haiti aside from the small jumps across the border I’ve done from the Dominican side.
We’re still editing, but the plan is to work with a Haitian web designer in Port-au-Prince to create a new page for the organization.
I’ll be traveling back sooner or later and can’t wait to see these wonderful people again.
Since my last update on this blog I’ve also worked in Ghana and the previously mentioned Dominican Republic. I’ll be traveling back to Ghana and on to Ethiopia in about a month. I’ll try and be a little better at sharing.
Some of my favorite moments:
Thanks for checking it out.
2013 has just about passed.
I moved to what most people would call the middle of nowhere for the summer with some of my best friends. A few other friends got married; a few other friends died.
Everyone moved out of houses and into apartments. My girlfriend and I split up. My sister Mary got married. Neal and I still drink too much beer when we get together. And I got a cat.
My friend and translator in Ethiopia, Gebre, said one sentence to me more than any other during my time in the country.
“Enjoy everything, Andrew.”
He would tell me this every single day.
He’d say that to me when we were sitting and I was drinking a beer in the middle of the afternoon because we’d been working since 4 a.m. He’d say that to me when I was borrowing the window-rolling handle from the taxi driver’s door mid-trip to roll my window down for a cigarette. He’d say that to me when hordes of schoolchildren mobbed me wanting their picture taken. He’d say that to me when we had to try several routes through the Addis Ababa University campus to get from our dorms to the to the exit because John Kerry was in town and military was everywhere blocking the way. He’d say that to me that when he tried to feed me raw beef, from his hands to my mouth.
He’d say that to me even when I left to go back to Nebraska, uncertain if we’d see each other again.
This isn’t a “Best of 2013” post. Or maybe it is, but not in the typical sense. These pictures are just the best way I know to show how much I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve been so lucky to do in the last year.
So when you look back - if you do - appreciate all of it. Most importantly, remember the little moments in addition to the big ones.
I’m so thankful for everyone who contributed to the moments in these pictures.
Thanks for looking.
I only met Reece once. It was just a few days before he died.
I made friends with a guy in a wheelchair at O’Rourke’s and he wanted to play pool, but we were crossing the street to go to Duffy’s. So he came along, and we played there. As we played, this longhaired guy no older than me stood by, watched and threw in good-natured comments every now and then.
“Oooh, just missed.” “Nice shot!”
It’s the typical bar pool talk used when you don’t know a person. And then he put his quarters down to play me next.
This is a story about community, about Nebraska music, about love for a friend.
A few days later I heard the news.
About two months after he died, people gather for another dollar tallboy Tuesday at Reece’s favorite bar, Duffy’s.
The stage is set for Lincoln’s UNIVERSE CONTEST, a local band known for its ridiculous light show and bare chests. There’s the usual lights and drums and guitars, but they feel almost reverent, covered in the blue pre-show lights.
There’s no cover - only a suggested donation at the door. The bar’s main room, side room and beer garden are filling up. And they’re filling up fast.
One group sticks out in this crowd. They aren’t 20-something college students trying to get drunk for cheap. They’re middle-aged, sitting in the corner booth next to the bathrooms, talking with a girl in a leopard fur coat holding a fishbowl half-full of bills and quarters in her hands.
It’s Debbie, Kevin and Diane – Reece’s mom, dad and aunt. Next to them is Travis, Reece’s brother. Tonight, Duffy’s celebrates Reece’s life.
The donations are for Reece’s family, except the quarters. Those are for Spider, a Duffy’s constant, who played pool with Reece almost daily. He’ll have plenty of free pool games, now.
Members of UNIVERSE CONTEST mill around the bar. Tim, a guitarist, isn’t working the door tonight as he usually does on Tuesdays; an ex-employee covers for him so he can perform.
They all wear black.
At 10:15 p.m., bargoers pack the side-room and crowd the stage. Band members said the show would start at 10 sharp, but no one expects them to start on time.
Around 10:45, the lights start to flicker. And then they were there.
Between songs five and six — “Doo Wop” and “Crank Up the Release” — Debbie, Kevin, Diane and Travis are brought on stage. The crowd shuts up and listens as Debbie and Travis, mom and brother, speak.
"We need to be good to people we know," his mom starts, "we need to be good to people we don’t know. Because that was Reece."
The crowd responds with cheers to that last line. And in a toast of dollar tallboys, hundreds of people come together and share their love for Reece.
The next song’s hook captures the moment.
We love you and miss you.
The crowd sings along.
We love you and miss you.
We love you and miss you.
During the song, it’s hard to do anything other than feel connected with everyone in the room through love we want to give for someone who was taken too soon.
It’s the most beautiful thing when people do something for someone else. And this moment on this November night, in Reece’s favorite bar, was a beautiful thing.
I don’t know if Reece’s family cares about UNIVERSE CONTEST, or cheap beer, or any of the fish bowl donations. But I know they care about their son, and now they know they aren’t alone.
I know there were a lot of people involved in making this happen, and I apologize if I’m missing any of the major organizers. Sam Kingsley (you rock, thanks for working with me Tuesday night to get me in the right spots for these pictures), UNIVERSE CONTEST, Jon Dell (for booking you get mentioned again outside of UC), Blét, Brian Barnes, Alex Russell, Rebecca Rickertsen, Cale Simonson, Duffy’s and Duffy’s staff, thank you for making this happen. I was so happy to be there.
I’ve never really told anyone this story before.
The friend of a girl I dated from high school through part of freshman year in college wasn’t happy with me this night. I was a sophomore in college, still of the age where I hadn’t figured out that my hair looks better cut short and I was on my then-new girlfriend’s couch.
I did something wrong, obviously, to draw the Facebook message attack you see below. The old girlfriend had contacted me trying to get information about something happening in Lawrence, Kan., in the student newspaper in Lincoln, Neb. I was a staff photographer there, told my boss who talked to a news editor, and they didn’t have an interest in covering it. It was simply out of our coverage for the purpose of the campus readership.
From 12:27 a.m. during the first hour of that Friday Oct. 22:
“[my best friend] will be successful on her own while you are an ugly old man taking pictures for the rest of your life. ANYONE can learn to pick up a camera and make something look good. it takes a true talented person to do the things she has been doing for the past couple of months. you are talentless and heartless. take notes from the people around you especially your ex who happens to be my best friend whom i know is one of the most amazing, giving people who walks this planet. have a nice night basking in your patheticness.”
I’m glad she sent me this message. It was one of the first times I realized how much is possible if you completely reject all of the negativity that is meant by the quoted words above.
But there’s that one sentence in there where she’s right! I will be taking pictures for the rest of my life and, if I make it there, I’ll be an ugly old man at the same time for some years. It really won’t be so bad.
Alas, that story is only vaguely related to the pictures below. Lincoln Calling this year was a blast…I’m working on editing a few nice videos for Universe Contest from the crazy spaceship of a show that Duffy’s was Saturday night. Stay tuned.
A lot has changed this year.
When one change occurs, it seems others always do too.
So it’s interesting to think about what’s changing, but at the same time acknowledging what isn’t.
I think there are constants in everyone’s life that they know they can always come back to and feel safe. These things don’t change; these are things you truly love.
I still love taking pictures, and that’s a nice thing to know I’ll always have.
Fun shoot this weekend for Hear Nebraska. I did a story on Scru Face Jean (second photo) about three years ago.
It’s been a long time.
I hestitate to even pretend to know where to begin with this post. This summer has been quite the experience.
In short, myself and three friends raised money through Kickstarter to live and work in Valentine, Neb., on a documentary project about the Sandhills of Nebraska, the only part of the state that isn’t flat.
The rolling dunes are majestically beautiful and you’re guaranteed to have sand in your shoes at the end of a good day’s work. We wanted to give a small town community a more in-depth and committed documentation of its lifestyle and current situation than it typically gets. To do that we knew we needed to live in a small town for a summer.
We chose Valentine because it has all of the elements of a small town - but it does have more than those typical elements. It is the Niobrara town. 30,000 tourists come through Valentine to float the river in the summertime. It’s about 1/3 of the economy, and almost all tourism happens in June/July/August. The heavy ranching lifestyles here contribute to another 1/3 of the economy. This is cattle country, without a doubt. You’ve probably heard there are more cows than people in Nebraska. That’s true here, too. Lastly, the Rosebud Indian Reservation sits just across the Nebraska-South Dakota border, with its southern edge just nine miles north of Valentine on Highway 83. Shopping in Valentine from reservation residents fills in that last 1/3 of the economy, generally speaking.
We put our work on our website, http://flyovermevalentine.com.
Now that our time is coming to a close, we’ll get to work on editing a short documentary together, and readying a few online interactive zines to be published in the coming months. So, even though we’ve been here working for three months, the project is far from over.
I wanted to take this time to update you on what exactly we’ve gotten ourselves into up here.
I think we’ve spent much more time covering community events than we imagined we would. It’s been a great way to meet people, and as the summer has gone on, it’s gotten to the point where we know at least someone almost everywhere we show up. It’s a town of 3,000 so that should be expected. I do know there are still people we never met, though…
Like the guy above, Heath Zullner. He lost two of his front teeth bullriding in ‘05. “After that, I started wearing a helmet,” he said. He was cool with me after another bull rider asked to make sure my “documentary project” wasn’t backed by PETA.
And then there’s the small (when I say small out here, I really mean small) community of Brownlee, which is about 45 miles south of Valentine. Its population sign reads “20 (or so).” Trust me, it’s less than 20.
There, we got to see so many ranchers we’d met over the summer come together for a Sunday evening church service by pastor John Lewis, below, who travels from North Platte to Brownlee every Sunday for the mass. “If I didn’t go (to Brownlee) they wouldn’t have a church,” he said. Imagine that.
Above, the Valentine High School alumni reunion weekend. Because classes are so small, every year, the fifth-year reunion (think: those that graduated in ‘85, ‘90, ‘95, 2000, 2005, etc.) classes come together and do a group reunion. Coming from a large high school, it was new for me to hear how these peoples’ high school experiences have stuck with them in such a bonding way.
And below, nightlife among young people in Valentine. So many of the young people seemed to talk down on Valentine, or ask why we would come *here* to spend our summer, as if it were a bad choice. You have to understand where they’re coming from, but at the same time, they seemed to be having so much fun out drinking, as young people everywhere do, that I didn’t think they actually meant what they were saying wholeheartedly about their hometown.
The Fourth of July demolition derby was a large contrast from what you’ll see later in this post about the Independence Day festivities in Sicangu Village on the Rosebud Indian Reservation.
Of course, cattle brandings…
And I spent some time following Mormon missionaries who’ve knocked on 90 percent of the doors in Valentine.
And the Mill Pond was always a reliably dirty place to cool off.
The Culpepper & Merriweather Circus’ visit to town was one of my favorite community events this summer. They welcomed me in right away, and laughed at me as I ran around outside in a hailstorm with a plastic bag over my camera and a snowcone tray held above my head to ward off the falling ice.
We were also welcomed into the Ride Across Rosebud camp, put on by two leaders in the Mission community who run the only private nonprofit on the entire reservation. Many nonprofits subsidize into the Tribe because it gives them access to the huge amounts of Federal money that’s given to organizations on the reservation every year.
We met youth there who are up against a lot, and there’s no concrete proof that any overall, positive change will come anytime soon. What Shane and Noella are doing with this nonprofit is a very good start, though.
But to contrast that, just a short drive away every weekend are the tourists who come to town to float the river. This industry picks up at the start of July and runs through most of August. Heavy drinking occurs. Park rangers do what they can to pick up floating beer cans - sometimes empty, sometimes full. Church groups and locals alike usually come during the week to avoid the masses.
And our first story, coverage of the Sandhills Marathon, which was more fun than you can imagine. Getting up at 3:30 a.m. is totally worth it if it means you get a Sandhills sunrise and access to drive NEXT TO the marathon runners while the race is going on. What other marathon lets you do that?
Lastly, one of my favorite places I spent time this summer, Sicangu Village, which is just about as isolated as it looks. It’s nine miles north of Valentine and is the first community on the reservation. Across the highway is the Rosebud Casino.
The Fourth of July had a different feel in the village. The quote that puts it most succinctly came from Fred Marshall, who invited us into his home for the holiday. "We can’t celebrate Independence because we aren’t independent," he said.
A friend asked me the other day to rate the success of this project on a scale of 1-10. I gave him an answer, but it’s not an answer I think I can come up with and actually mean it.
The success of this project is that we (myself and the three others who put up with me all summer) went out on a limb and did something different.
We all thought this project was important enough to, when Kickstarter money started running dry, put in whatever we had, whatever we could, to make sure we could finish it right. We all thought this project was important enough to ditch whatever internship offers we had, to stop pursuing other jobs, to come out here and do it.
It’s a trend I want to continue as I finish up my last year of college and try and move forward with my career. And it’s inspiring to know that we’ve got this one partially under our belt, and we’re still just as excited about it as the day we started.
The risks will ultimately be worth it, and any failures along the way only taught us how to do this better.
Thanks to Jacob, Lauren and Nick for doing this with me, thank you to everyone in all of the communities we sunk ourselves into this summer and thank you to everyone who gave us support or encouragement along the way. That especially means those of you who visited and brought food.
People do the same thing, all over the place, in different settings. Click through to Visual Twins and follow to see us build a collection of those moments.
Left: Niobrara National Scenic River, Berry Bridge // Photo by A
Right: Bodybuilding competition, West Palm Beach, Fla. // Photo by L