National. My first photo went national. It was a week ago and I am still in shock. And still just as happy as a kid on Christmas morning. Here's the story: on Tuesday of last week I photographed a group of third graders from Elrod Elementary carrying 300 paper bags they had decorated with Earth Day themed art back to the local grocery store. The store had lent the students the bags and planned to give them out to customers on Earth Day. Three girls were at the front of the line and as they waited excitedly I snapped this picture.
When I got back to the office, I worked up the photo and on a whim decided to upload it to AP. That was Tuesday afternoon, and were it not for a particular kindness, that would have been the end of my part of the story.
On Thursday almost as soon as I sat down to begin my work I noticed one of the girls from the front office walking into the newsroom with a bouquet of flowers and a ballon which reads "You Rock!" She came to my desk. :) In all my years as a photographer I have never been given flowers for doing an assignment before. And the flowers are still beautiful, tiger lilies, and purple irises (two of my personal favorites) surrounded by yellows, pinks, whites and some fascinating greenery.
The flowers are from Barb Andersen, teacher of the third graders I had photographed. Scott, my editor, looked over and smiled. "That the kind of thank you that you want to say thank you for," he said. I agreed and so I wrote her a thank you email. When she wrote back she mentioned that she had never had one of her stories go national before. And that's about the point that I started getting really excited. What did she mean "national?"
Turns out she had gotten a call from an editor with USA Today wanting to double check the spellings of the names of the girls in the photo. It is not uncommon for photographers these days to want to rip their hair out at the decidedly odd ways people have begun spelling names. In a lot of cases you will run into one unique spelling, but three in a row gets questionable. Janet Kigilyuk, Paulina Carbajal-Jepsen and Lauryn Vornbrock. Those are the students in the photo. In the photo that ran in USA Today. They ran it. Can you believe it? I can't. And, it gets better.
I moved to Montana from Maryland. I lived within 10 miles of the National Mall for three years. And now, once I have moved to the middle of nowhere Montana, now, one of my pictures gets used to illustrate a story about the National Mall. Are you kidding me? The irony of this is quite simply too much perfection. I have to smile when I think of it.
Once I got the news I began looking for a copy of the paper. My first USA Today picture - I want that newspaper. Turns out they don't sell them in Montana. In the entire state, you can't get one. Fortunately Ms. Andersen had a connection in Spokane, Wash. and she got me a copy of the paper. On Friday she called me to tell me that the photo had been picked up again. This time by the Christian Science Monitor website. They created a slideshow of pictures from Earth Day around the world. It can be found at http://www.csmonitor.com/CSM-Photo-Galleries/In-Pictures/Earth-Day-2010
And right there in the middle of it, number 13, Kalispell, Montana. Kalispell, along with Columbia, Chili, Peru, the Florida Keys, South Korea, India, Moldova, and of course, Washington D.C. — who would have ever thought?
On a more personal note: I've been thinking a lot about my parents this week. They would have loved this. And they would have been so very proud of me. I like to think that this would be one more piece of evidence that proves the faith they placed in me was well-founded. When I began in photography I started with my father's old Canon AE-1. I loved that camera. But when it became obvious that I was serious about photography my parents took me up to Murphy's Camera in Lexington (the camera store that I am loyal unreservedly still loyal to) and bought me my first real camera. And as I got better and kept with it, they bought more expensive gear. They did that for me. They also let me live at home my last year of college so that I could work jobs like the school yearbook, the PR office, the campus newspaper and the local daily, none of which paid much but all which added to my portfolio and my resume. The life that I am living now, the life I so desperately love, was made possible by my parents. I remain profoundly grateful. I wish they could have lived to see this.
I know that is a sad note to end on, but I won't apologize. Even the sweetest and happiest moments are often laced with sorrow. And from my perspective an experience is made richer by having such depth.
So, here it is, the digital file of my USA Today page. Thanks to everyone who has written to offer congratulations. Thank you for sharing this moment with me.