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Year-end photo wrap-ups abound around the Internet, and for good reason. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the news of the year and to remember the imagery that moved us or made an impact on our lives in some way.
We try to zero in on some key storylines and tug on them as hard as we can. This year, the most important visual storylines included homelessness, emergency response times in San Diego’s poorest neighborhoods and yes, a bit of politics.
Bill Rogers’ Tears
In January, 550 volunteers and 71 service providers packed Golden Hall to provide haircuts, footbaths, dental work and more to about 1,150 homeless residents.
Bill Rogers was among them. When photographing homeless residents, I always take a moment to chat with them before taking their photo. Rogers was more than obliging and it was almost difficult to get him to stop mugging for the camera. After a while, he just sat back and relaxed while getting a haircut and a shave. I was drawn to the teardrop tattooed by his left eye, and honed in on that. Rogers told me he got the tattoo when he was 18 after a friend was murdered. But I found the tattoo a telling emblem of plight.
Cheryl Canson’s Move
When we see photos of homeless, so often they’re on the street, tucked under blankets or inside tents.Cheryl Canson’s situation was much more nuanced.
Canson was evicted from her home when her son Jordan was convicted for abusing his infant.
As Megan Burks reported in April:
Canson and her children lost their home because of a federal zero-tolerance policy for Section 8 tenants. The rule ousts the entire family when one person — even a guest — commits a crime or uses drugs on a property subsidized by public housing assistance.
This image shows Canson moving her things out of her daughter’s apartment where she stayed temporarily after the eviction. She had finally secured a space at St. Vincent de Paul Village and needed to find only the most important keepsakes to take with her.
Her friend Marvin had just arrived at the house, which was in disarray. The toilet was broken and had flooded the bathroom. Marvin was trying to figure out how to get it all fixed before picking up Canson’s kids from school. It was a true testament to the idea that when it rains it pours, but also to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.
Rosario’s Dark Corner
So much of photography is about light. So, you can imagine my trepidation when I was asked to tell the stories of folks who were affected by an absence of light.
In June, we introduced seven San Diegans who had some scary encounter or problem because they were in an area without adequate street lighting. To illustrate the issue, we had the participant hold a flashlight to their faces almost as if it were a microphone, as if the flashlight was their sounding board.
Rosario had been coming out of her father’s house in City Heights when she encountered a man peering into the window of her car and had to chase him off.
Check out the audio of her telling her own story:
A Prisoner’s Free Place
In September, Joel Hoffmann and I spent a day with the prisoners of Rainbow Conservation Camp No. 2 to see what life was like for these prisoner-firefighters.
We arrived early in the morning to watch these women go through their morning regiment. After a workout that would have put me out of commission for about a week, Capt. Jon Heggie asked whether we would be joining them on their morning hike.
I was carrying about 25 pounds of camera gear and wasn’t exactly in hiking attire, but I knew we wouldn’t get any trust or respect from these women for the rest of the day if we didn’t join them. After all, they had just finished a workout and were used to carrying much heavier gear into massive wildfires.
So we did the mile or so hike up the mountain, and it was worth every drop of sweat. With sweeping views of the area surrounding Rainbow, we were able to learn why this camp was so different than any other prison. It was the level of (relative) freedom these women were afforded in exchange for their service. That’s why this image stuck out to me.
Rosemary Womack’s Deep Breath
In July, Liam Dillon produced an extraordinary report about how and why emergency response times are slower in many of San Diego’s poorest and brownest neighborhoods.
My job on stories like this is to introduce you to the real live people who the issue affects.
Rosemary Womack was the perfect example. During the blackout in fall 2011, Womack waited more than 15 minutes for a first responder to arrive at her Skyline home to give her the oxygen she needed. She worried that one day, firefighters wouldn’t respond in time.
“I just thank God they come when they do,” Womack told Dillon.
I spent about a half-hour shooting Rosemary’s portrait as she clutched an inhaler in one hand. I knew I needed to show the space she lived in to capture her breathing machine but also her relative solitude and her need for help. Her whole dilemma revolved around her breath, so I waited to click that shutter until she breathed in and filled her lungs with the machine-supplied oxygen.
Another one of the other families affected by emergency response times was the McCoys. I had previously spent time with them for a report about efforts to clean up their street in City Heights after their grandson Rickquese was killed there.
From the first 911 call, it took first responders 12 minutes to provide care to Rickquese, who was bleeding out in an alley.
It turned out that as I was about to revisit the McCoys story for the emergency response story, they were about to host a memorial for the one-year anniversary of Rickquese’s murder. We gathered in a canyon behind their home, where the family had previously assembled a makeshift memorial.
I tried to stay quiet and unobtrusive as the family mourned and remembered. The photo was important to remind readers of the real implications behind the facts and figures we published in that report.
The last four photos in this series were all touched off in some ways by this moment. This is the press conference where former City Councilwoman Donna Frye, along with attorneys Cory Briggs (left) and Marco Gonzalez (not pictured) urged Mayor Bob Filner — who they’d supported publicly up to that moment — to resign over allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace.
I had photographed a lot of moments in Frye’s life and knew her well from covering her all these years. You could feel at that moment a palpable sadness on her part that things had come to this. At one point, she made long eye contact with me and I knew it hurt every time the shutter clicked. She leaned into Briggs’ arms and he consoled her as Gonzalez spoke. It was the beginning of the end for the mayor of San Diego.
Just as I’d gotten to know Frye, I’d gotten to know Bob Filner throughout the mayoral campaign. He and I had a rapport. Filner was known to be difficult, but he was great to photograph. He was animated, bullish and no-frills. It was how I wound up capturing this photo of him reverse-planking on a desk in the former planning department offices late last year.
This was one of those tense moments I’ve shared with a politician I’ve come to know.
Filner had come out to read a prepared statement about how he would not be stepping down from office, but he would be seeking therapy. In front of the biggest gaggle of press I’ve ever seen around this mayor, he painfully plowed through the statement until all of a sudden, the audio went out. He waited and waited as city staff frantically tried to fix the issue and every click of the camera sliced through the tension in the room.
Filner retreated temporarily to his office while the staff fixed the audio. This is the moment when he returned to repeat his statement for the cameras, even more tortured than when he arrived the first time.
As we know now, Filner eventually resigned, and Council President Todd Gloria ascended to the interim mayorship.
With a bunch of candidates running to replace Filner, we thought it was important to examine exactly what a mayor is tasked with doing. So, my wife and reporting partner Hailey Persinger and I spent a full day with Gloria to see exactly what life was like for the iMayor.
In the afternoon, we headed over to the San Diego Humane Society. As we stepped out into the dripping rain, I saw two words on the wall that I knew needed to be juxtaposed with Gloria’s silhouette. Regardless of political beliefs, most reasonable people can agree that Gloria’s tenure has been devoid of the types of scandal that we saw under the Filner administration. It was an editorial statement I was comfortable making with the words on the wall.
All of these events led to an opportunity for Qualcomm executive Nathan Fletcher. After failing to get to a runoff in 2012 and a few party switches, Fletcher was initially poised to be a front-runner in the race to replace Filner.
On Election Day, we all knew it would be tight. I needed to make a few different photos of Fletcher early in the day that could illustrate how the storylines might play out at night.
He stood along Rosecrans Avenue under a grim Loma Portal sky and waved to passersby. From the front, the photo was joyous and hopeful — Fletcher stood with his children and boasted big smiles as he waved to honking cars.
But from behind, the waving motion conveyed something else: a departure from Fletcher The Candidate.