Category Archives: Personal Work

Free admission

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Free Admission

A decayed water park
thirsty in the searing California desert,
is quenched by spray paint

Applied color,
of lines and shapes conveying
love, hate, pain, politics,
reside on the sun fun skeletal remains
a slide with no slide
a pool with no pool

“Freckle face”
“I’m a nurse; I do crystal meth”
“Leon loves Heather”
It’s a community poem,
the common thread: expression
I take my piece too
for my little blog post

The smell of spray paint hangs in the air
I am alone in this charged space
later frightened by an artist then two lovers
we find ourselves on this ride

Lake Delores Waterpark that once was wet
now flows with an artsy, niche vibe
where lovers and haters gather
to leave behind a permanent mark
on an impermanent, changing space

 

Lake Delores Waterpark, with slogan, “The fun spot in the desert!” closed its doors permanently in the late 1980s. Ronda Churchill is a freelance photojournalist available for hire worldwide. http://www.rondachurchill.com
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Grandma’s Camera, part 2

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Charlene Cecilia Wolf

(March 22, 1928- April 22, 2018)

Charlene, beloved mother of 6, grandmother of 13 and great grandmother to many passed away peacefully with family at her side. My mother, whose own mother passed away very tragically in a car wreck, was with Charlene as final breaths were taken. My mother knew her mother-in-law longer than her own mother. Charlene was “mom” to many.

Weeks ago, I wrote an unpublished blog post when I returned from Illinois after spending quality time with my grandmother. I have saved those words and will revisit them at a later time.

In Illinois, I photographed my grandmother on a day that she felt well. We looked at my prints from a previous trip that I exposed with her mother’s camera, ate popcorn, talked about grandpa and his visits in her dreams, and exchanged stories about his “pennies from heaven.” I even witnessed my grandmother’s very first manicure. She chose an electric teal that a nurse named “I’ve-never-done-this-before Blue.”

In the photograph, one of two frames I took on the 100-year old Brownie, tiny paper hearts hang in a tree behind her. The hearts revealed handwritten notes to loved ones of past and present and were left over tokens from Valentine’s Day at the care center.

In the image, my grandmother wears one of her favorite shirts, her hair is full, her nails are painted, and she has a slight smile. I know today that her smile is huge because she is no longer in pain, is not afraid, and is reunited with the love of her life.

Thank you, grandma, for being you. You will be missed by your big family.

Author’s note: See previous blog post for Grandma’s Camera, part 1

Grandma’s Camera, part 1

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Brownie 120 film: ocotillo cactus in Baja California, Mexico

I will always remember the first photograph I developed in a darkroom– the U.S. flag flapping in the wind before the St. Louis Arch. The photo, which I shot on my parent’s Minolta camera, popped to life in the developing solution in the soft red light before me. I was immediately hooked. Photography has always been in my blood.

Before the Minolta, I grew up around the fine arts of music, drawing, painting, writing and dance. Even though I was playing impressive six-page sonatinas on the piano in middle school, my first formal photography class wasn’t until my first year of college. It so happened that my favorite drawing class shared the same hall as a photography class. My attention kept driving me to the photo class’ open door.

Well before college, I had begged my parents for a Polaroid camera, which would be the very first camera that I owned. I still have hoards of Polaroid photographs of my stuffed animals, best friends, siblings and vacations. That camera was the first of many cameras.

Several years ago, my grandparents moved out of the house where they raised their six children, and my grandmother gave personal items she wished to pass on to her 13 grandchildren. I wasn’t surprised to find that she gave me a compact Kodak No. 2 Folding Autographic Brownie that exposed 120 film through its nice bellows. Included with the camera was its original instructions manual complete with a $3 price tag. I kept the treasured camera within a collection of other old cameras I had accumulated as gifts from family members. This sort of collection is fairly typical of a professional photographer. All who have “the eye” are really drawn to the history of our passion.

However, it was not until my grandmother fell ill last month that an intense need to shoot with the camera grew within me. I wanted to take photos to show her, and I desperately wanted to make her proud. When I told her of my plan, she informed me that the camera was her mother’s, my great-grandmother’s, and that the camera that I held was approximately 100 years old.

So when my husband and I planned a five-day road trip, a trek that would take us south through the desert of Southern California and into Mexico along the Sea of Cortez, there was no question that I would include the Brownie in my arsenal of film cameras for the trip. Along with the Brownie, I chose to bring a plastic $30 Holga camera I had since college, including a partially exposed roll of 120 film inside it. I also chose a 1970s 35mm Canon AE-1 with a fixed 50mm f1.8 lens. I was set with these three film cameras plus my iPhone and a digital Sony mirrorless. To say my husband is a patient travel companion is an understatement.

All the posted images were shot on one of three film camera bodies. All frames are scanned prints with minimal toning. Imperfections in the prints are due to several factors such as: age of the film, light leaks, dust (especially on my grandmother’s Brownie), and wear/tear of cameras.

Next month, I have a flight home to St. Louis to visit my grandmother and to celebrate her 90th birthday. At this time, I truly hope we can have a lovely discussion, and I will take the prints with me, although she’s a hip lady and will most likely already see these digital prints here. Lastly, I plan to make a portrait of her with the third-generation Brownie. After all, my camera was designed for this very thing.

Ronda Churchill is a freelance photojournalist living in Las Vegas. You can follow her on Instagram @rondachurchill

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Brownie 120 film: Cadrón cactus in Baja California, Mexico

 

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Holga 120 film: sunset near the Sea of Cortez in Mexico (l). A home in Bombay Beach at Salton Sea, California (r)

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Holga 120 film: Double exposures at Kelso Dunes, California

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Canon 35mm film: Playa Hawaii in Baja California, Mexico (top & bottom left); Bombay Beach in Salton Sea, California (top right); Detail of sand at Kelso Dunes, California (bottom right)

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Canon 35mm film: Ocotillo Cactus in Baja California, Mexico (l), dunes at Glamis, California (r)

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Holga 120 film: East Jesus, Slab City, California (l), Bombay Beach in Salton Sea, California (r)

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Brownie 120 film: Sea of Cortez at sunrise

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My great-grandmother’s Kodak No.2 Autographic Brownie (l), a portion of my film camera collection including the Brownie, top right, and instruction manual (r)

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My grandmother Charlene with me and my brother (l) and her with one of her many great-grandchildren (r)

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Portrait at the Salton Sea (l) and working at Kelso Dunes (r). Photographs by my husband Jim on my iPhone.

Adults Only

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A model that goes by Weed Slut 420 sinks into a ball pit on the showroom floor.

Close your eyes and imagine you could visit a place where you are immersed in adult sex fantasy. Open your eyes. You are at the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas.

For the third consecutive year, I attended and documented real-time erotica and was one of more than 50,000 attendees. Everything sex, including: well-known adult entertainment stars, “Cam Girls” live streaming for tips, loads of all types of bedroom toys and apparel, and fetish demonstrations can be seen in one bustling hotel convention space that hosts a multitude of mainstream events and concerts at any other time of the year.

It takes quite a mind shift to exit a typical Vegas casino space, passing blinking machines and tourists, in order to enter a world of sex where anything and everything goes.

Standing in security near the main halls, one may see a woman leading a chained man wearing a head mask. Sex slaves and their masters also attend the show. And for the price of less than $100, you can attend too. However, attendees and media alike must sign an agreement that states touching and inappropriate behavior with models and exhibitors is strictly prohibited. The master and her masked man must have arrived together.

The expo prefaces the main card of the Adult Video News Awards and red carpet event, where the biggest names in adult entertainment walk a red carpet, weaving through the casino length, to an awards ceremony for the previous year’s film work.

Since 2012, Hard Rock Hotel has hosted the AVN Awards and expo each year in January shortly after the culmination of the city’s massive Consumer Electronics Show. Whether visitors to Sin City are viewing larger-than-life home electronics or adult stars, January in Las Vegas will not disappoint.

*Ronda Churchill is a freelance photojournalist working in Las Vegas and can be booked at http://www.rondachurchill.com Follow her on Instagram @rondachurchill

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A model stands among confetti at the VIXEN booth.

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An elderly man, left, takes a photograph of customized adult toys while another attendee gives a closer inspection.

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Jean, center and last name withheld, participates in a whip demonstration.

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(top left) Juniper, a Cam Girl, flirts with a client while live-streaming at the convention. (top right)  A Cam Girl’s computer is adorned with stickers and external lighting. (bottom) AK Ginger Snaps is illuminated by a modeling light at a live-streaming booth.

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Mr. Bunny XXX roams the showroom floor to hand out self promotional materials.

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Anja models her homemade embellished bra.

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Adverts for online entertainers, pens, pins and condoms are displayed on a freebies table.

 

 

 

 

Halloween on Fremont

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A woman from Texas dressed as a nun plays a slot machine at The D hotel-casino.

Halloween might be my favorite holiday. People stress over which home or city to celebrate in and what food and gifts to give for nearby Thanksgiving and Christmas, but Halloween offers a much more fun opportunity to gather with friends and family. Throw in the fun of costumes, and it’s a win-win holiday.

As New Orleans is to Mardi Gras, Las Vegas is quickly trending to be a Halloween hotspot. Since Las Vegas is the city that celebrates everything weird and wacky, it should come as no surprise that Halloween is big here. Nearly every establishment features a unique gathering.

Perhaps I favor the holiday more than the average person because I met my husband on a blind date six years ago on Halloween. We ducked from the evening sun into a dark bar on Las Vegas’ historic Fremont Street in 2011. What I noticed more than his Dos Equis beer’s “Most Interesting Man In The World” costume were his kind demeanor, honest personality and nice hands. My husband says that I was engaging and had a good smile. I like to think I conveyed a warm personality despite being dressed as a dead prom queen.

Afterward, we walked under the famous nearby canopy to “people watch,” which is still one of our favorite social pastimes. As we walked, a cluster of people all dressed as Where’s Waldo? ran past us. We took an elevator to the top of a lookout area to view costumed pedestrians, and we commented with laugher on the most unusual ensembles.

At the end of our brief evening, I made him stand for a photo next to an arcade game not unlike the fortune teller machine in Tom Hank’s cult classic “Big.” The customized case before us featured the bust of an old man named Pappy. My date, who wore a month’s long beard that was dyed gray and little commercial branding for his costume, resembled the old man puppet ever so slightly.

This Halloween, when I drove down the never-ending loops of the casino parking garage, I commented to my sleepy and slurry husband that this particular evening was my favorite evening of all of 2017. We had such a fantastic time revisiting “our bar,” people watching with an older Minnesota couple on “our” overview looking spot, and walking the length of the canopy in our costumes. I was Lucy. He was Charlie Brown complete with football. We handed out Halloween candy from a gift bag to the children we encountered, and we even accumulated extra treats from people thinking that we were trick-or-treating.

There is no denying the encompassing and exciting vibe that is Halloween on Fremont Street. It is one that begs to be witnessed. For those who were not lucky enough to see it in person, I offer up this treat.

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

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Pam and John Casteel, of Michigan, are dressed as cock hunters. “Well, weve been doing Halloween every year that we have been together. It’s been 44 years,” he said.

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A young man wearing a Snow White dress weaves his way through the crowd on Fremont Street.

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People walk along Fremont Street under the canopy (left), a man participating in a group costume wears shot glasses in place of rounds of bullets and holds a beer.

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A man in a customer pours beer into a plastic glass outside a souvenir shop. Glass containers are not permitted on the street.

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A woman in a flapper costume stares at her losing 75-cent ticket after playing the slots.

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A couple in costume walks along Fremont Street.

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Russell Nunley, of Salt Lake City, looks at his phone while dressed as Elliott from E.T. He purchased the basket he holds for $5 from a manager at Albertons grocery store.

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Photos in our home of my husband, left, and I on the night we met.

Little Jimmy’s Legos

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Legos soak in a soapy bath. (left). My bare feet touch damp, clean Legos that are set out to dry on beach towels. (right). All Images iphone.

My husband returned from North Carolina with three pillowcases full of his childhood prized possession: his Legos. He had been at his parent’s house on the East Coast for the past weekend helping them clean and organize 40 some years of their past when the toys were found.

James, my in-laws’ little neighbor boy that shares the same name as my husband and is drawn to him because of that fact among others, was present when the cardboard box containing the plastic loot was found; he was as excited as the adult James, when the Legos were uncovered.

Alas, the tiny jewels made their 2,500-mile trek on Southwest Airlines from the cozy North Carolinian home nestled in 47 acres to my city house in Las Vegas.

My husband Jim’s face lit with excitement as he pulled each pillowcase from his suitcase, holding one hand at the top and another at the bottom cradling the weight of the loot. Each bag could have been carrying solid gold pirate coins.

As fantastic as his bounty was, we did not have anyone to play with them.

Also, the collection, which was originally handed down to my husband from his cousin in a similar sack, was in a desperate need of a proper rinse. Grass, spider webs and lint had jumped in with the toys throughout the years while they were stored in North Carolina.

The cloth sacks remained in my garage for nearly a month. I purposely left them where they could be seen because I wanted to complete the task in a timely manner. I’m a tidy person, and I like to keep things organized.

The calm, quiet and relaxing day, today, was as good a day as any to clean.

I started with grabbing eco-friendly soap, a giant tub, a colander, several beach towels, and the sacks of treasured Legos, of course. I went out back by the pool and dumped a sack into the big tub adding soap and water from the hose. I upped the pressure on the hose and giggled as the water sprayed out onto my bare legs, and the littlest of Legos–the one-section bricks, Lego people heads, small weapons and the like– floated to the top first.

I started taking photos with my iphone because I am a photojournalist, and the fun continued.

After I had a full bath of Legos submerged in suds, I slowly poured them out into my biggest colander, dumping all of the sudsy water in the process and rescuing the jumpers back to the bowl. I returned the Legos to the wash basin, and added water a second time for a proper rinse. For this rinse, I upped the pressure, and moved the running water from the hose in a clockwise action to mimic a spin cycle. Once the tub was full again, I strained the Legos a second time, shook out the water, and dumped them onto a towel, spreading them out to dry. I repeated this processes several times with each bag of Legos.

After a good sweat and soaking later, my chore was complete. All 1 million of the plastic shards were as clean as skillfully possible. Okay, I did not count the loose Legos. Who does that?

Currently, the little guys are baking in the warm sun with a heavy towel over them to prevent any from getting up and walking away in the light breeze.

What started out as a task I wasn’t looking forward to, ended with great joy. Even though I wasn’t building sky scrapers or castles, I was letting the Legos swim; I inspected individual pieces, I broke apart structures that my husband’s little hands had created long ago, and I was getting that warm and fuzzy feeling in my tummy thinking of my husband, little Jimmy, growing up in an awesome and loving home.

I think every adult day should start off this way. This morning I played with Legos.

* I dedicate this post to O’s and S’s mommies, respectively, and to all the mommies out there who are trying so desperately to become one.

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A Lego is shown in the colander. (left). Legos receive a spray during their “spin cyle”. (right).

Like-new Legos in their old configurations.

 

 

 

Creepy Cuba

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4.30.17 Neópolis Cristóbal Cólon

There are two types of people in this world: believers and non-believers; I am a believer. I am a believer of spirits and the paranormal.

I think a lot people are skeptical until they have an experience that catapults them into the believer category. I was converted a long time ago, but today on this rainy and dreary day in Las Vegas, I will tell you my most recent story that has kept me firmly checking the believer box.

Last week, I visited Havana, Cuba, for a work trip. I have been slowly going through some 3,500 images I shot while also working for clients and visiting with family in town. One of the days I eagerly anticipated editing was the day I visited Neópolis Cristóbal Cólon.

Neópolis Cristóbal Cólon is a massive cemetery in Havana and is the largest in the Americas spanning 140 acres. It was founded in 1846 and is world renowned.

Any time I visit another country or US region, I love to walk in their local cemetery. I feel that cemeteries offer a candid glimpse of how people live today. So much culture can be seen in cemeteries and the living need not be present to see it. You only need to be there.

On the particular day I visited Neópolis Cristóbal Cólon, the humidity was a stifling 80-90% on top of a nearly 80-degree temperature. In fact, most of my days in Cuba were of this awful recipe. I do not fare well in humidity, and every day, I took a “siesta” that included going back to my room, having a cold shower, and resting. This day, I was determined to power through my siesta because of my schedule. I shouldn’t have for I did not feel well.

The expansive cemetery contained aboveground graves topped with concrete slabs. There were also many large mausoleums housing wealthy families’ remains. I recall one point where I was photographing near a statue of a mother. People had walked up behind me and started chanting and clanking the rings on the concrete slabs. Their actions bore right into me, and I staggered backwards. I nearly passed out right then and immediately stumbled to the nearest tree for shade.

When researching for this blog, I discovered I was at the tomb of Amelia Goyri, who is known as La Milagrosa (The Miraculous One) and died in 1901 while giving birth. A marble statue adorning a cross, woman and baby in arms marks her grave. Her body was exhumed years after her death and was uncorrupted, which is a sign of sanctity in the Catholic faith. Her baby, who was buried at her feet, was allegedly found in her arms upon exhumation. For this reason, her grave has become a pilgrimage site of sorts for those who are hopeless and have special requests. I almost passed out at her grave while photographing the shrine around it.

But this isn’t the story I came here to write.

Due to not feeling well, considering I almost fainted two times before I left the cemetery (this is for sure a record for me in all of the hot and humid places I have documented in my 18 years of being a photojournalist), I do not have many photos from the cemetery. In fact, I only stayed about an hour and hoped to return.

That evening, I was talking with a new friend about my time in the sacred place. I retrieved my camera to scroll through a few photos and to ask him a question about a grave and that is when I saw it. There wedged between street photography and headstone shots, were a handful of black frames. What I found so odd was and had me slightly panicking was that the back of my camera had suddenly appeared dead on those  black frames.

To elaborate, I have my gear set up that when I am reviewing photos, I can see the file number, exposure and sequence. An example of such is “1/2025” (photo shot 1 of 2,025). When I came to the black frames, I did not see any camera data.

I was so worried that the camera card was corrupted (ruined card and lost photos) that I took it out of the camera at that moment, stowed it, and grabbed a new card.

But this is where it gets even weirder.

Not only did these frames not show any camera data on the back of my camera in the review mode, but also they were actually exposed in the same exposure as the images that appeared right after them. (I only had changed the ISO from 400 to 250). So, I had shot images outside with the same f-stop, shutter speed and similar film speed as the frames after them, but they came out black. How is this possible? By the way, if you are outside and expose too much, you would get a practically white frame, not black. And no, I do not own a lens cap.

And then as I looked through more of my take, it happened again both times only at the cemetery, and then the rest of the day’s images were fine. I am missing most of my cemetery take because of this.

When I open the image in photoshop, I can not pull anything out of the frame when using curves or levels. I find this very odd too.

Camera mishap is actually not the first time something has happened with my gear while visiting a somewhat eerie place, but I won’t launch into that story now. In fact, you can read about it here: http://dailyegyptian.com/31215/archives/devil_10-9_cm-death-by-a-broken-heart/

In the end, I was not able to return to Neópolis Cristóbal Cólon due to time constraints. I know that I will return to Cuba in the future, and when I do, I will be visiting the cemetery again and brining a newfound respect.

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Contact sheet from 4.30.17. Street photography images prior to shooting at Neópolis Cristóbal Cólon, which starts with blank frames.

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Camera data for back-to-back photos black frame (top) and statue shot (bottom). Exposure in blue.

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Offerings for Amelia Goyri, “The Miraculous One.” Here is where I nearly fell to the ground from heat.

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A mausoleum I was intrigued with. Note see the three graves were broken into.