Twenty years ago this year I became a visual journalist. I started my career in 1999 as a photographer for the Marine Corps. After fours I became a graphic illustrator for the Corps. Four years later I became a photojournalist for the Air National Guard while also freelancing in New York City. After three and a half years I joined the Air Force where I work as a public affairs officer today. I’ve spent the last eight years telling the story of the Air Force’s mobility, combat and education missions, and now I tell the story of the joint mission in Korea.
Through the last twenty years one thing remained consistent, no matter my job I always had a camera, and I used that camera consistently. While I mostly shoot video today, I’ve never stopped taking photos. So to help commemorate 20 years of visual journalism I decided to pick one photo per year to represent my career. I’ve tried to focus less on picking necessarily the best technical photo, but instead choosing the most impactful, memorable and representative photo from that year. So please enjoy this collection and if my journey has inspired you please feel free to create your own collection and send me the link.
Why this photo was chosen: When I joined the Marine Corps as a photographer I had no experience whatsoever using a real camera. The extent of my camera work consisted of using disposable cameras to take mostly shots of my family on vacation. I’d never really used the camera for artistic purposes. So imagine my surprise when I join the Marine Corps and am told that no, I won’t be a graphic illustrator, but will instead be a photographer. Ugh, I was so sad. I couldn’t believe I’d have to do something so boooooring as photography for my career. Well, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I found myself not only drawn to photography, but actually pretty good at it.
This photo represents my first experience with a real camera, my first experience using black and white film, my first experience developing film and my first experience making a print. It was truly magical. When I got this print I was taken aback by how clear and vivid the reflections on the car were. Everything just popped off the page and everything regarding the love I have for photography clicked with this photo from one of my first roles of film. While a nothing special photo in retrospect, it was special to me and will always have a place in my heart.
Why this photo was chosen: Learning photography near Washington D.C. enabled me to get coverage of very timely and relevant stories. At the time this photo was taken, the LGBTQ community was fighting tooth and nail for rights. This was before they earned the right to marry or serve openly in the military among other injustices. This photo not only represents one of my first forays into color photography with a real film camera, but also a vivid point in the gay rights movement.
Why this photo was chosen: This photo was taken during a capabilities exercise at Camp Lejeune, N.C. I was a young, impressionable Marines and the Corps wanted to show me, a POG (person other than grunt), life outside the confines of Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. There was a whole world outside out little base, the world of the real Marine Corps, or the “fleet” as well called it. So they sent me down there to watch what “real” Marines did, and it was pretty cool. I saw a demonstration of a beach attack, this Harrier Jet taking off, an anti-riot demonstration, an aerial assault and a hostage rescue event in a military operations in urban terrain facility (basically a fake town).
Of all the photos taken from that event, this sticks out as being the most memorable to me. I love the symmetry, the heat waves under the plane, and the unusual nature of the plane sitting on a regular road, not a runway or a tarmac, but just a road cars drive on. This was also one of my first forays into digital photography as well, and once I got my hands on a digital camera I never, ever looked back. The ease of use and instant gratification of digital was too much for me and that’s how it has been since.
Why this photo was chosen: This photo doesn’t have some special significance in my life, it’s just a cool photo from my collection. I’ll be honest, the first couple years of my photography career I did not do a good job of archiving my photos. I have a handful of photos from a handful of shoots from this year. I guess I just didn’t really understand the significance of my imagery enough to keep really good tabs on it. I’m sure there’s a hard drive in a landfill with my work from 2002 that was thrown away by the office in Quantico, Va., but I just never thought to keep a copy of my work on a personal hard drive. This changed over time, but it’s how I operated back then.
The story of this photo is that Marine security forces members were sprayed directly in the face with pepper spray and forced to run an obstacle course in order to have the right to carry the spray. I’ve never been sprayed with pepper spray but I got a whiff of some that flew downwind and man, was it ever painful. I can’t imagine what it was like for these guys, but it did lend itself to some awesome pics. You can really feel the rage of this guy trying to work through the pain complete the course. Getting sprayed with the agent helps them understand what it does to a person in order to really know how to use it. Or maybe some sadistic security forces Marine thought it would be fun to spray people with pepper spray. I mean think about it, Marines don’t have to get shot by a gun to carry one of those around….just sayin’.
Why this photo was chosen: This shot just evokes so much about the person and their profession as a DJ that it makes a very memorable image. I also think its nature as essentially a happy accident makes it that much more fulfilling. I was honestly just messing with the camera, putting it on a slow shutter speed and mixing rear curtain flash along with with some twists and turns of the camera to make this image. If I could ever describe a photo as representing sound, this would be it.
Why this photo was chosen: I’m not super into sports, but this is definitely my best sports photo. Taken at a time when I was able to go to Syracuse University and attend college at the school’s prestigious photojournalism program, I was happy to cover sports and I had many opportunities to do so. This shot was taken after a night of basketball and was far and away the best shot of the night, making it to the front page of the student newspaper. It was tough picking a shot from the year, given how much I photographed, but it was definitely one of the best things I shot.
Why this photo was chosen: This was the first photo that I was ever able to sell as a print. I got $50 for it in an art auction. Besides being a work of art in some people’s eyes, it was a fun shoot and helped me demonstrate my ability to do studio work. Please note that this has been slightly manipulated as I’ve deleted the backdrop, which was acceptable manipulation as per the assignment I was given for this project.
Why this photo was chosen: I’m not a big wedding shooter, but when I was given the chance to shoot one, I jumped at it. This was the first wedding I ever shot and from what I was told, the original photographer left and I was a last minute replacement. Regardless, I was proud of the work from my first wedding photo shoot, and since I’d only charged $50 for my two hours of time, I’m sure the couple wasn’t expecting much. I’ve always considered shooting more weddings, but it’s an extremely high stakes, competitive field, and I’ve never felt like putting in myself in a position where someone could sue me because they didn’t like my photos.
Why this photo was chosen: After I left the Marine Corps, I was adrift in New York City looking for work. I applied for a number of different positions, but the only company willing to give me any work was a photo agency that focused on celebrity candid photos. So, for better or worse, I was a paparazzi. It was an interesting job, but ultimately unsustainable. Regardless, it gave me insight into a type of photography I’d never seen before and provided me the chance to see huge celebrities up close and personal. My most memorable encounters were with Leonardo DiCaprio, who ran from me several times. This shot, though, was my most lucrative and marked the high point of my short time doing this type of work.
Why this photo was chosen: This was just one of my favorite photos from my time with the 106th Rescue Wing that year. The pararescue jumpers provided many photo opportunities and I was happy when they provided me the chance to cover their training.
Why this photo was chosen: Again, the pararecusemen provided me with some of my best imagery of the year. I submitted this photo to the Military Photographer of the Year competition, hoping for some recognition. Unfortunately, while it did pass the first chop of imagery selection for the category it was placed in, it got dropped in the second chop. Too bad, too, this was an enormously difficult photo to capture and required me shooting from a moving boat, while water sprayed in my face and trying to shoot at a low enough shutter speed to get motion blur on the blade while also keeping the image generally sharp.
Why this photo was chosen: Three pararescue shots in a row, I know, but what can I say, they’re photogenic. This was from a particularly cool temporary duty assignment at Cape Town, South Africa. I’d been tasked with photographing the group as they performed in an air show. The Table Top Mountain in the background made all these shots iconic and representative of the location while also offering a really cool background. That combined with something as cool as just seeing guys jump from planes made it an awesome and memorable experience overall.
Why this photo was chosen: This year I became an officer in the Air Force, an extremely large career turning point in my life. I’d dreamed of someday becoming an officer, and testing my ability as a leader, and the Air Force gave me that opportunity. About a week into my training I asked for permission to get my professional camera gear from my car. The act required written approval from our class commander. Once I had the camera, I took it everywhere with me and cataloged a pretty detailed example of what OCS was like. I also had a small point and shoot camera and even did some video editing while I was there. While I’m not a big fan of silhouettes, as I think they’re cliche, I felt I needed to choose something from OCS and I like this shot.
Why this photo was chosen: Susi and I were engaged by this point in our lives and I needed to include one photo that acknowledged our relationship. I had my camera on a tripod, BTW, and we did this shot several times before we got it right. What I think this photo symbolizes, besides the love I have for my wife, is the great lengths we went though to keep our relationship alive. For the sake of our relationship I asked to be stationed in Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., the closest base to NYC and had to travel 3 hours to see Susi. Of course she would travel that same three hours to see me, so it was a fair exchange. Regardless, it was all worthwhile and has led to a long and happy marriage.
Why this photo was chosen: Trixie was the first pet I ever owned as an adult. I had a few pets growing up, a hermit crab, a rabbit, a bird, but never a real pet, like a cat or a dog. My mom always told me that I could get whatever pets I wanted when I moved out and had my own place. Well, I finally had my own place, and I was allowed to have pets, so I get myself a cat. I loved Trixie and was sad to see her go in 2018. She was a great cat, super friendly and gentle, and someday I’ll get another, till then I’m content with Susi’s cats.
Why this photo was chosen: Much like Trixie was my first cat, Zelda was my first dog. I should say, though, that Zelda was our first dog, as in it was a joint decision between me and Susi to get a dog and we co-owned her. She was a stray that had been picked up and dropped off at the pound. She had heartworms and we had to treat her for them before we could adopt her. She’s been a wonderful, loving dog and a great addition to the family. Her best qualities are gentleness with the children and getting along with our cats.
Why this photo was chosen: I got the opportunity to deploy to Honduras for three months as part of a humanitarian exercise known as New Horizons. The event as was awesome and allowed me the chance to pick up and use a camera in a professional capacity, something I’d been unable to do for much of my time as an Air Force officer. Not only was this one of my best photos from that deployment, not only one of the best photos from the year, but probably the best photo I’ve ever taken. This mixture of chance, luck and perfect timing led to an iconic image that I think perfectly enraptures a career as a military photojournalist.
Why this photo was chosen: When you become a parent your life changes forever. That became true when my wife and I had Julian, our first son. There are thousands of photos and hours of Julian from his first few years and it’s impossible to choose just one, but what I like about this photos was the naturalness of the shot combined with something that made him truly happy, bubbles. His pure joy and sideline glance make this image stand out to me and help remind me of the joy of being a father.
Why this photo was chosen: As mentioned before, becoming a parent changes your life, and having a second child is just a life changing. Susi and I had wanted a second, and Adrian fulfilled that desire. Seeing his tiny little hand raise up and reach out only moments after being born just signified how innocent and defenseless this little creature was and how in need of protection he would be from his loving parents.
Why this photo was chosen: I’ve always been a big fan of air shows and I like to attend them when I have the chance. Well this air show was in my back yard and allowed me the opportunity to get some great shots of aircraft in action. Nothing life changing happened this year that I could sum up in one shot, just some great imagery I thought I captured.
Why this photo was chosen: Beyond being a really cool shot from a really cool event, this photo just represents my ability to still capture newsworthy imagery even after being removed from the field full time for so many years. Honestly, I’m lucky to get a few of these opportunities a year, so when one arose, I took it. I just happened to be in Fort Meade, Md., for training and was also attending the Defense Information School (for the 6th time) and used my association with the school to get access to cover this event.