Category Archives: Personal Work

Goldfield High School

“It is interesting… I never come in here at night by myself, “ said Goldfield Historical Society vice president Steve Foutz as he rounds another corner in a maze of a basement that gives me an immediate spooky vibe even though it is a sunny morning in October. Foutz, along with his shadow, a herding dog named Tucker, is giving me a personal tour of Goldfield High School. The school was built in 1907 and is the original high school in the small mining town with strike-it-big dreams located 150 miles north of Las Vegas.

It is an interesting site indeed, rising three stories, with hardwood floors, hand-laid brick and exposed walls that were originally nailed by hand, then plastered over. A slew of fixtures, desks, chairs, pianos – all teachers had to play back then – and debris, most of which was left by the last students who attended, in the early 1950s, are lying here and there. An occasional doll is left behind, brought by night tour groups hoping to spot ghosts. At the building’s heart is a grand, wooden staircase that turns and twists, connecting all levels. As I follow my guide up the steps carefully, I can imagine decades of students running up and down these stairs in their wholesome clothes, toting books and laughing, teasing one another. 

The school that housed students for decades until about 1952 now stands empty, somewhat dilapidated and quite serious. There is no laughter today. The only souls here are a handful of men working on structural renovations to keep the building upright and safe from the harsh desert elements. Students eventually left the building mid 20th century and were bussed to nearby, larger Tonopah, due to a dwindling population in the mining town.

John Ekman, the society’s weathered and determined president, is working with a friend on window casings this morning. When I ask about the renovations, he says with a sigh, “It’s a slow process; I don’t think I’ll live long enough to see it.” 

The efforts of the society and community members, both their physical labor and applying for and receiving grants, are important work. It ensures that this part of history in the small mining town of Goldfield is preserved for generations to come. At this time it is unclear whether the building will eventually open to the public or as a museum.

As we make our way to the top floor, my guide points to names scribbled in pencil outside a classroom. George Koocher. Blanche Packer. Ken Goodrich. The long lists of names are dated around 1940. Foutz pauses a moment and says that 50 percent of these people probably went off to World War II, and 50 percent of those never made it back. I pause too, as the moment sits heavy between us.

On the ground floor, original desks line a classroom where many students sat day after day. Old window panes are warped, distorting the view through them. Foutz points out the mines nearby through the windows and says that the view must have been tempting during lessons. I think of my own high school, a massive compound of historic buildings back in the Midwest. I agree with him remembering that I liked to gaze out during class too.

Foutz shows me the current mascot for the high school, a giant Great Horned Owl that has taken up residence in the rafters of the attic above a small auditorium. Although the workers have not given the majestic bird a name, it is a permanent fixture at the school, returning season after season, keeping watch. Foutz jokes that they do not have a vermin problem.

My time with the school was short, but I will long remember it. That time was special, like listening to the reflections of a wise elder. 

I was honored to make its portraits.

Goldfield is a historic mining town often referred to as “The World’s Greatest Gold Camp” and is located part way between Las Vegas and Reno, northeast of Death Valley. Ronda Churchill is a freelance photojournalist and is available for assignments worldwide. You can follow her on Instagram @rondachurchill

Photograph dated 1909 shot at the school’s front steps and is displayed at the high school.

Spray

1 October is a hard day for Las Vegans. I went in search for some color. This space is reserved for artistic expression and is located .3 miles from the Las Vegas Community Garden, which honors those 59 that lost their lives during the Harvest Route 91 mass shooting Oct. 1, 2017.

Ronda churchill is a freelance photojournalist and can be found on Instagram @rondachurchill.

night lights

Mariah Naples grew up in Flint, Michigan, and recalls a time she was pulled over by the police while driving her vehicle with a group of male friends. She said that police stopped her because they feared she had been kidnapped and were concerned for her safety.

She is white. Her friends in the car were black.

After she explained to police that the guys were not taking her against her will, but were friends, she says the police’s tone changed from one of concern to one of interrogation, as she and her friends were manhandled and her car was searched. Upon finding nothing suspicious, the group was eventually released to go on their way.

About twenty years later, the experience stuck with the mother of two, who now lives with her husband and family in a North Las Vegas home. When the community started protesting against police brutality for the May 31 death of Minnesota man George Floyd, Naples wished she could have participated. However, she had to forego protesting because she cannot tolerate the heat ever since she underwent several brain surgeries last year.

“We came to the decision that we needed to do something,” said Mariah’s husband Rob.

The couple responded with a large homemade sign that hangs from the top of their two-story home and is visible from the freeway behind it. With the help of Rob, a structural engineer, the couple created the sign that features “BLM,” an acronym for the Black Lives Matter movement, in bright lights. Their two children helped as well, and the sign has been shining near the 215 freeway for a little over a week.

Mariah is active on social media and has been posting about the sign, receiving a lot of positive response from the community and offers to help with small adjustments to the sign.

However, not all feedback has been positive, and she has received pushback from some people close to her.

“I wanted to make sure everyone, including people in my family that are extremely racist, knew where I stood,” she said.

In a year where a lot are struggling and may seem dark, the Naples are bringing a little light.

Ronda Churchill is a freelance photojournalist based in Las Vegas and available for assignments worldwide. Follow her on Instagram @rondachurchill

 

BLM Day

The following images document two weeks of Las Vegas’ response to the death of George Floyd. Floyd, a Minneapolis man, was killed in police custody in Minnesota on Memorial Day. This post is part of a two-part series with images shot before the sun set. Please see “BLM Night” for the other half of this story.

 

 

BLM Night

The following images document two weeks of Las Vegas’ response to the death of George Floyd. Floyd, a Minneapolis man, was killed in police custody in Minnesota on Memorial Day. This post is part of a two-part series with images shot after the sun set. Please see “BLM Day” for the other half of this story.

 

 

 

Empty

The desolate downtown and Arts District are photographed on Day 10 of a statewide quarantine for COVID-19 in Las Vegas. The notorious Fremont Street Experience is closed off to pedestrian traffic and security guards stand by. Local artists have painted plywood that boards small businesses’ window fronts. Southern Nevada hunkers down for what I only fear is the beginning of the new normal.

Ronda Churchill is a freelance photojournalist available for hire worldwide. You can follow her on Instagram @rondachurchill

24 No More

While the world holds its breath, reality infects the people of Las Vegas with the truth that we are in the grasp of a pandemic. What once was a passing thought of bad luck for a town in China across the world dealing with a virus that sounds more like an adult beverage, is now a great fear. Our hometown, a showy 24-hour city, has gone dark.

Nevada is officially in a State of Emergency, and on Tuesday evening Governor Steve Sisolak ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses, which includes all casinos.

Workers are ordered to stay home, and the city cashes out. Only a handful of stranded tourists, homeless population and journalists remain on Las Vegas’ most famous 4 miles of road. The following photos were shot on Day 1 of the governor’s order.

Ronda Churchill is a freelance photojournalist available for hire worldwide. You can follow her on Instagram @rondachurchill

Hallowow

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I met Jeff at a part-time job I took to supplement my photojournalism income.

Jeff is amazing, to say the least. First of all, he is a recovering alcoholic with over two years sobriety, which I think takes a huge amount of courage. He is a survivor of a many things, including a gay bashing assault.

He is hilarious. On my last week of work, he brought me bags of candy (we both love the sugar) and a balloon with the word Princess on it. “Here,” he said shoving the whole lot into my hands, “They didn’t have one that said ‘you’re an asshole.’”

Lastly, he is quite the seamstress. He designed and sewed his entire octopus Halloween costume. It took him roughly 60 hours and 20 yards of material. Last year, he was a mermaid. The underwater theme is kind of his thing.

Thanks friend for keeping me sane while on the clock. People really are awful, and I think everyone should have to serve tables at some point in their lives, sooner rather than later. Moving forward in my career, I hope to be as fearless and fabulous as you.

 

Ronda Churchill is a freelance photojournalist available for hire worldwide. You can follow her on Instagram @rondachurchill

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“Unknown”

unknown2_blog

I have always been drawn to cemeteries.

Perhaps the often-photographed location of a cemetery has always been ingrained in my photographer’s blood. Maybe the lure to explore them stemmed from my childhood memories of my mother speaking to her parents’ graves while we visited the quiet, tranquil space and my younger siblings and I examined the rows of nearby headstones. Above all, the way a community documents and celebrates the resting place of their loved ones is quite telling of the culture of its living population, and I always find myself  documenting these plots of lands.

Last week, forecasted rains dampened my Memorial Day weekend camping trip in Southern Utah. Before heading back to town, my husband and I stumbled upon a little cemetery near Mormon-settled St. George in the somewhat ghost town of Silver Reef. It was there that we found the town’s Pioneer Cemetery, a small cemetery declaring the land to have graves of both Catholic and Protestant faith. Inside the divided cemetery, among weathered headstones and blunt grave markers were 32 graves marked “unknown.”

I jumped out of the truck with my camera as wind whipped around us and dark clouds moved in upon the small plot nestled at the foot of a mountain and sprawling country homes built over a 19th century silver mining town.

Sadness was palpable as I shot frames of uniform white crosses with unidentified bones buried beneath them. The hand-crafted markers were a small forest in an ordinary field. I took my time and moved around the land, while my husband walked our dog along the perimeter, knowing I needed space.

Although only a couple frames made the cut, I would like to think of these images as a small tribute to the miners and their families that lay below.

“Unknown” is a part of an untitled and ongoing series. Follow photojournalist Ronda Churchill on Instagram @rondachurchillblog3road