Black Lives Matter: Louisville

Today hundreds gathered outside of at the Carl Braden Memorial Center to hold a vigil for Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile, two unarmed black men shot and killed by white police officers in the last week in the U.S. The vigil turned into a peaceful march that blocked off inbound West Broadway from 7:00 pm til 8:00 pm. 

Moving away, coming back

Listening to: Michael Hurley - "When I Get Back Home"

Top left to bottom right: Olivia Rivera in her room on move-out day. Michael Mayberry after swimming in the Hocking River. Kara Guyton in her room on move-out day. Raina Vi on the Jackie O's patio. Kara Guyton on the Jackie O's patio. Tommy Marrett with his dog at Nelsonville Music Festival a day after he ended his Appalachian trail hike. May 2016.

Today I got two rolls of film scanned from the past few months as I moved away from Athens, visited my hometown of Monongahela for a week, and began living in Louisville. Thanks to my friend Eli who gave me his old film camera and Olivia who let me use two of her rolls of film, I took a break from my usual DSLR and tried my hand at shooting film for the first time (I know, I'm young. Get your Millennial generational jokes ready). 

Taking pictures of old friends and my three "homes" was a really soothing exercise. Getting this film back just reminds me so much of the places I've lived over my lifetime and why I loved them. 

 View of the Monongahela River wrapping around California, Pa. from Highpoint Drive in Coal Center, Pa. May 2016.

Moving away from home is hard. It completely flips your world upside down, even if you're not going that far geographically. 

I remember being a teenager and dreaming to move far, far away to the other side of the United States. I dreamt of traveling to India (which I did last summer). I wanted nothing to do with my Appalachian/Rust Belt hometown of Monongahela, Pennsylvania. My peers and my schooling taught me that staying in the community you grew up in was a sign of failure. I wasn't taught to take pride in my community and strive to make it better by staying there after graduation. I was taught to leave.

A home's swimming pool sits in front of the Mitchell Power Station near Courtney, Pa. May 2016.

Steve Weinstein walks through a stairwell that used to lead to Waco Way that is now overgrown in foilage on the North Side of Pittsburgh, Pa. May 2016.

A natural gas drilling site cuts into the rolling hillside of Eighty-Four, Pa near Mingo Creek County Park. May 2016. 

Four years later after going to college in Athens,Ohio, that mentality took a turn.  I gained a newfound respect for the small town culture I had always been surrounded by. I fell in love with walking down the street and waving hello at friends and strangers; with not being able to see a few 100 yards in front of me because the landscape rose and fell in rolling hills and thick green woods filled the cracks of Athens' eclectic suburbs; with small businesses working their asses off to make it in an area of the country that so often was overwhelmed by big industries. Despite being in what most people describe as the college bubble, my education as a photojournalist pushed me to get involved in the community at large.

I realize now that I take pride in being from communities where things aren't handed to them. I take pride in not being a city gal. I take pride in living in Appalachia — so much that I hope to take my skills as a photojournalist to work with non-profits in Appalachian development over the course of my career. 16-year-old me would have never expected I'd want to stay in this part of the country and I'm still working on those subconscious thoughts telling staying means failure. I'm grateful to have had amazing friends, family, and coworkers along the way.

Nelsonville Music Festival patrons take a break from the music to swim in the Hocking River. Nelsonville, Ohio. June 2016.

Jackie O's Tap Room. Athens, Ohio. May 2016.

Olivia Rivera in her room in Athens, Ohio. May 2016.

Eli Hiller, Raina Vi, Kara Guyton, and Michael Mayberry at Jackie O's Taproom in Athens, Ohio. May 2016.

Michael Mayberry in his bedroom in Athens, Ohio. June 2016.

Maddy Ciampa, Natalie Mahomar, and Michael Mayberry outside of my car before heading to Union Street Diner in Athens, Ohio. June 2016.

Kara Guyton says goodbye before I drive to Louisville, Ky. Athens, Ohio. June 2016. 

But for now, I've moved away and live in Louisville, Kentucky. Funny, huh? The thought of living in a midwest city kind of makes me cringe, but I've unexpectedly loved it here so far. It's a bittersweet feeling, though. I'm being pulled in two different directions. I'm split down the middle between where I've been and where I'm going. Something tells me I'm going to move back to somewhere in Appalachia in the near future, but for now I'm taking each day as it comes and giving every place I'm dropped into a chance to feel like home. 

My Louisville roommate Casey Toth and her dog Bre in Cherokee Park. May 2016.

Harlan County resident Adam Wilder poses for a portrait at Big Rock in Cherokee Park in Louisville, Ky. May 2016.

A lot learned in a little amount of time.

Senior Disability Action employee Tony Robles speaks to the crowd during the Save Midtown rally outside of the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development in San Francisco on June 1, 2016. Midtown Park Apartment residents filed the largest rent control petition in San Francisco history in 2014 of 70 units and continue to fight against displacement today.  "The affordability gap has been that much more pronounced and developers will do anything to get ahold of land here," says Robles. 

A mentor of mine once told me that you can learn a lot from failure — sometimes even more than if everything always went the way you'd want it to. And sometimes you learn what not to do.

Last week I attended the Hearst Photojournalism National Championship in San Francisco. We were given an assignment prompt 10 days before the beginning of the shoot-out, and 36 hours to shoot a picture story on the topic. Our prompt was:

"The demographic of San Francisco has been changing the last couple of years and its impact is being felt by many long-term residents as real estate prices continues to sky-rocket and high tech businesses establish themselves in the city and the rest of the Bay Area. Activists are raising their voices and political agendas are forming.

Who are the people, what are their stories and how is this new demographic challenging the way people live in this historic city of San Francisco?"

I decided to focus on my story on the affordable housing crisis because I've explored stories about development in the Appalachian region and wanted to take those interests of mine to the west coast. However, I soon learned how immensely difficult it was to not only document an issue I was completely foreign to in a completely foreign city, but also how complex and nuanced that issue was. Drop a pin in any neighborhood in San Francisco, no matter the demographic, and you'll find people struggling to make rent, struggling with eviction and homelessness. I felt incredibly lost during the week in San Francisco and my pictures felt disjointed. I attempted to tell this story with such a limited timeframe and limited access as an outsider to such a vibrant community. 

Housing crisis activist and writer Marti Sousanis tears up while telling her eviction story in her home on June 1, 2016. Sousanis was a victim of the Ellis Act Evictions in 2006 when she was evicted from her home at age 62. The Ellis Act is a California state law that says landlords have the unconditional right to evict tenants to “go out of business". Before being evicted, Sousanis collaborated with policy makers to enact a city law that put a moratorium on converting rental housing into condominiums. However, because her home was a single-family occupancy, she was still a victim of eviction.  "I never ever dreamed that I would lose my home. I was at the height of my career." Sousanis was given a year to find a new residence and was diagnosed with breast cancer a month before she moved out of her home of 21 years. 

I spent the day of the shoot-out talking with and photographing inspiring individuals who opened me into their homes to tell their story within the housing crisis. But every moment I was constantly asking myself, who is benefitting from this? Are my photographs actually doing anything for these individuals? Hearst only publishes the winning work, and my images were not strong enough for me to pitch to any editors after the program. It would be naive to think that I could make any work that could do their story justice in a day. Instead, I felt like I was the only one benefitting out of the experience — gaining valuable journalism experience, networking, a free trip to San Francisco, and a scholarship.

I'm immensely grateful for my experience with the Hearst Journalism Awards Program. The organization provides invaluable opportunities for student journalists and I would not be where I am today without their support throughout my college career. But I also have to constantly ask myself, where could our money be better spent? How could we involve the communities that open themselves up us to practice our skills in journalism? Could we use a portion of the money that goes towards our week-long experience in San Francisco and instead put it towards community engagement with the work we create — like a temporary gallery or a printed publication to distribute?

I'm spit-balling here, but there has to be a way to do this better. So yes, I learned a ton from my week in San Francisco, but it was not about how to take a good picture or how to seek out a story. I learned that as journalists, we serve our communities. And if everyday we pick up a camera it is not for the benefit of those we are documenting, then we have to rethink and reinvent how we do our work.

Maybe this is me slowly realizing I am not meant to work in journalism. Maybe it means I still have a lot to learn about this industry and the Hearst program was just another stepping stone in me reaching my potential. I don't know. It's been exactly a month since I've moved away and more since I graduated from college. Some days I question my career path and others I am so excited to get out into the field and starting making work. I'm hopeful that I find my place in visuals soon enough, and the ride to getting there will be an ever-growing process. 

Chris Carlsson poses for a portrait outside of his home at the Pigeon Palace, co-op housing in the Mission District that was funded by the Mayor's Office of Housing and the San Francisco Community Land Trust. In 2015, the city offered a $2 million loan to be purchased by the land trust and prevented it from being bought out on the market.  While the going rate for Carlsson's apartment is $5,500 per month, each unit pays $1,200 per month because of the land trust model through which it operates. "My point of view is that everybody should have a home. That should be the goal," says Carlsson.