The Journey

 

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A man explores the mineral-deposited land at a hot springs in Tecopa, Calif. The small town, although without a stoplight or cell service, is home to many hot springs and draws throngs of tourists each year.

It started with a toothache.

I woke up and went to the dentist to discover that I needed a load of work done. I was in a lot of pain and swapped a 30-minute appointed for two hours in the chair–with a $2,000 price tag.

I was anxious to leave. I had a two-hour drive for an assignment in a tiny desert town that did not even have cell phone service.

With no time to lose, I left with a partially numb mouth and loads of worry. I have a dozen outstanding invoices due to me, some of which are late; and I must mention that one of my biggest clients laid me off without notice, because of budget constraints, the week of Thanksgiving. However, the worry was dissipating and soon replaced with excitement the farther I drove away from Las Vegas.

I truly enjoy any assignment that takes me to a new place, and photographing a widow of a cannabis legend in the town of Tecopa, Calif. population: 150 is no exception.

Also, the long drive allowed me to stop and explore. As a photojournalist, every drive I do seems to take longer because of this little fact.

I met my source in Tecopa without a minute to spare. Although the shoot, at times, was very challenging, she was extremely pleasant and cooperative, dubbing herself “an old hippie and a stoner.” All in all, I made some beautiful frames that I will have to share in a future post since they are embargoed until then.

On the way out of town, I noticed to my right a photo coming into frame while driving. The scene before me looked like it could have been on another continent. The land was dramatic; the sun was beginning to set; the clouds were particularly amazing; and there was a nice wind playing with a man’s bright red robe. Excitedly, I pulled the car over for about the 10th time, jumped out while the car was idling in park, and grabbed my gear.

After shooting for a while, I decided to take the long route home that would have me exiting through another desert town called Pahrump, where I happened upon a wonderful scene. The sky had only become richer since I had left Tecopa 30 minutes from my previous stop-car-get-out-shoot adventure.

I pulled over abruptly dodging dicey construction traffic and captured what looked like God himself lighting a sign just for me. I am not religious, but I know a good photo when I see one. I know an even better photo when I see the juxtaposition of a divine message with a racy town in the background.

Perhaps my story has taken a bit of a detour.

By the time I made it home, I had 632 frames between two camera bodies–and one giant toothache.

The next day started with more dental woes, and I found myself sitting in the exact same chair I had been in 24 hours earlier. I was the victim of probing and prodding yet again. Once we were through, the doctor reminded me that he wanted to show me his photo studio. Thankfully, we hadn’t had time yesterday.

“Come here, I want to show you something,” he said, excited.

See, I met Dr. W in a professional setting years before meeting him as a patient. He was very interested in my photo equipment then. I recall that I wanted to do my job as opposed to doing what I like to call “talking shop.”

I got out of the chair and followed him into a back room which he had completely converted it into a fully functioning photo studio equipped with an entire B&H catalog’s worth of equipment and the latest, greatest Apple products. He proceeded to excitedly show me x and y and z and followed the whole thing up with a quick little photo slideshow on a TV screen larger than the one I have in my living room. The slideshow featured patients he had photographed, concentrating on the dental work he has done, close-ups of teeth and such. There were a few frames with subjects wearing flowers and holding food.

While earlier I had tried to be polite and engage in tech-talk, I finally offered a suggestion of using a hair light on one of the subjects. He quickly dismissed me; I could tell he was not really listening. This show-and-tell was clearly more about him and less about my input and our conversation.

Dr. W is a really skilled dentist. My husband and I would not be going to him if he weren’t. Heck, he was the only one to finally give me a proper diagnosis after years of walking through other dentists’ doors. I am very thankful for that.

However, Dr. W is not a photographer. It is clear that he has had no formal training. His portraits that he displays proudly in his office lack any emotion. The horizon line is constantly tilted, and the lighting is wrong. Also, I noticed that every woman he showed in his 5-minute slideshow presentation had bare shoulders and arms, as opposed to the shots of men wearing collared shirts. Did he read somewhere in a handbook that putting a woman in a tube top (I hopefully presume) to create the illusion that she was topless or bare was good? Or professional? These are patients.

I left his office for a second day in a row feeling sore and a bit depressed. The entire time I was checking out Doc’s Photo Studio, I had wished that I had half of his studio set-up in my own office. I remembered those outstanding invoices and the other half of the $2,000 I still owed him for my dental work. Life is so ironic like that, isn’t it?

But then something happened. My editor from my Tecopa assignment returned my call while I was making the 10-mile drive home. After discussing some specifics about photo distribution, I filled her in on my pervious day and experience with the widow. I told her about the funny hiccups we had, quite frankly things I would expect to encounter with a woman who had been smoking marijuana nonstop all her life, and my editor and I laughed. She told me, “It looks like you really tapped into your reporting skills,”

That stuck.

I may not have all the studio equipment that I desire or the newest MacBook Pro, but my older, updated one is doing just fine for now as I type this blog post. Also, my very first camera, my father’s hand-me-down Minolta, worked just fine for me back then as well. I even won a few awards with frames that I shot on that old film beast.

In the end, I would not trade any of my photo experience for any amount of gear or money; I am already a very wealthy person. What started with a toothache, ended with humble comfort.

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A family walks along the path to a hot springs easily accessible by the main road.

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Pahrump advertises: Jesus (foreground) and Alien Fireworks (background)

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Tecopa, California.

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A man practices tai chi on the top of a high dune covered in minerals in Tecopa.

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A rusted water container is marked “FIRE WATER” at Charleston View on the boarder of California and Nevada.

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A man dressed in an orange wrap explores near a hot springs in Tecopa. He was one of several in a similarly-dressed party. I attempted to converse with them to see if they were Buddha or Hare Krishna, but there was a language barrier. A member in his party was from Thailand.

Participant

 

Women's March Vegas

Ashely Hardy burns sage and records video on a cell phone while participating in a women’s march to protest newly inaugurated President Donald Trump Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Las Vegas. A crowd of some 15,000 people marched downtown for a rally at the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse.

“Raise your hand if this is the first time you have ever participated in a march?” A woman said to a thick, buzzing crowd clotting Las Vegas Boulevard on a sunny day.

Raised hands went up everywhere around me and were like stars you can finally see so clearly in a country night sky when you get out of town and all of the pollution is far away.

In my 14 years as a full-time photojournalist, I have covered many marches, protests, strikes and cause-driven community gatherings without bias. I pride myself on my ability to remain professional, to cover all sides equally and above all to be impartial. In fact, I enjoy spending time at events where people are so passionate; it strengthens my appreciation of our beautiful, diverse world.

However, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, I found myself not booked for an important day in our nation’s history and decided it would be the first time I would attend a politically-driven event as a participant. I brought my camera, because I can not turn “that” off ever, with the hopes of making a few nice frames that may lead to an editorial blog post.

So here we are. Back to Sunday.

I walked alongside people of all ages, genders, races, and minority groups. I passed signs written in Spanish, people playing musical instruments and even a woman burning incense. Some participants even donned creative costumes and many wore homemade knitted pink caps. It was clear that everyone had one common drive: passion.

Women, men and children gathered throughout the world in solidarity. I can not speak for the people who marched in one of more than *670 events worldwide that day, but I can speak for myself and why I chose to participate:

I marched because I am not okay with a president that does not believe in the first amendment. I am not okay with a world leader who makes fun of a handicapped person on national television during his campaign for presidency. I am not okay with a world leader who wants to take away certain women’s rights in healthcare. I am not okay with a world leader who does not believe that the world is in a dire stage of climate change. My list of grievances is hefty, and these are merely a few.

To my friends, colleagues, and those who happen upon this post, thank you for making it this far. I know that we may not feel they same way and our political views may not align.

I only ask of you this:

Please think of one thing–anything in the world–that matters the most to you in your life. Think of that thing now in your head and create an object that represents your important thing and put that object on a pedestal. Now think of someone, lets say your boss, saying derogatory things about the item on your pedestal. Let’s go a step further and say your boss makes threats to hurt the item on your pedestal and prevent you from having it, touching it, seeing it, or letting the item thrive. How would you react?

This was how **half a million people in Washington DC alone decided to react Sunday in order to protect their item on their pedestal.

* According to Washington Post

** According to Associated Press

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People march on Fremont Street past historic neon signs.

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People chant, “Stronger together, we won’t fall. Justice peace and equality for all.”

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A woman holds a plastic figurine of Hillary Clinton (left). People cheer at the start of a rally outside the federal courthouse (right). 

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People participate in a women’s march to protest newly inaugurated President Donald Trump Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Las Vegas. 

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Kitchen with “outside” view at sink.

I received an invitation to an event called “Network Like a Billionaire!” from a good friend of mine, the wife of a colleague and fellow journalist in Las Vegas. We jumped at the opportunity to trade $10 each for a glimpse inside the 70’s swank home, including a guesthouse and pool, which was built completely underground.

My friends and I giggled with glee as we entered the staircase through the aboveground caretakers quarters and descended 30 feet below. Had we known an elevator that featured a window with a black light display show was an option for our entrance, we may have chosen the lazy, more scenic route.

Upon entering the 1978 Bomb Shelter People Terrarium, we were greeted by sprawling plush green carpet “grass,” pale blue painted “skies” and an abundance of plastic “leaves,” some of which were attached to a “tree trunk” that served as a ventilation route.

The underground compound was a massive 16,500-square ft., and us lucky golden ticket holders milled through room after room oohing and ahhing over various interior time capsule décor and faux exterior environment complete with lighting for sunset, day, night, and dusk.

We envied the pull-from-the-wall toasters in the pink kitchen; a room that appeared to be from a 1950’s television show set. We bathed ourselves in fun while touring an elaborate master bathroom complete with lit tub that was surrounded by mirrors and even had ourselves a mini photo shoot (fully-clothed of course!). We even walked on a suspended Flintstones-like bridge over the in-ground (well it is all in ground) pool to view two separate little hot tub nooks.

Mingling like a billionaire we did not as we chose to selfishly soak in the scene around us–myself taking in the beautiful disaster before me with each exposure I took. However, I insisted that we take a moment to speak with the current caretaker of the home so that we could fire off our questions that had come to mind while we became acquainted with the property. Not only did he tell us, among other fascinating facts, that the pool could be of use for bathing if need be during a nuclear attack, but he also said that he would probably get out of town and “ride it out first” if such a disaster would occur.

Side notes: The home that is located just east of the Strip in a residential area was built in 1978 by Avon founder Gerry Henderson and his wife Mary to reportedly withstand a nuclear blast. It was purchased for $1.15 million in 2014 by the Society for the Preservation of Near Extinct Species. The home is used for meeting and private events.

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Pool and tree at night with bridge to mini hot tubs.

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Detail of curtain in bedroom, detail of wallpaper in kitchen.

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One of two pull-out toasters in kitchen.

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Friends Sherri and Henry grab a selfie outside the home.

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Guest house (left) and outdoor lounge area by main house (right).

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Night lighting in quadrant near living room window.

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Touring is hard; relaxing in the master bath. Photo of me by Henry Brean.

Bundy, Bunkerville & Gold Butte

Gold Butte national monument proposal vs. Bundy Ranchers; Oregon trial reaction.

Angie Bundy, wife of rancher Ryan Bundy, speaks with her husband who is calling from a jail in Oregon Monday, Oct. 31, 2016, in Bunkerville, Nevada. (Ronda Churchill for The Washington Post)

In a shaded spot on Cliven Bundy family ranch land along the Virgin River, I met with Angie Bundy, the wife of Cliven’s son Ryan. Ryan is currently incarcerated in an Oregon jail for his involvement with an armed takeover of a federally owned wildlife sanctuary last winter.

A mere two and a half years prior, I was standing in the exact spot on a very warm April day listening to Angie’s father-in-law Cliven address a tired group of media after a long standoff about what he believed were his constitutional rights to cattle-graze on Bureau of Land Management land in Bunkerville and beyond.

Currently Cliven, along with Ryan and his other son Ammon, is also imprisoned and butting heads in a seemingly endless battle with the Federal government. The Bundy voice is now one often heard from phone interviews from jail instead of riverside meetings.

Today however, Angie agreed to meet a reporter and myself for a story for the Washington Post. Although she arrived late waiting on childcare, she came prepared, passionate and ready to talk. After we set up camp chairs, she received a call from her husband Ryan. It was his birthday and he was calling from jail. She suggested and granted the reporter a quick interview, and then we stepped away giving privacy for a wife to speak with her husband.

Note: This is an ongoing story. The Bundy family awaits trial in February 2017 in relation to the 2014 standoff. Ronda Churchill is available for freelance assignments related to this story as well as others.

For The Washington Post story and more photos I shot that day, please see: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/2016/11/01/c45bdf4e-a04c-11e6-a44d-cc2898cfab06_story.html

Gold Butte national monument proposal vs. Bundy Ranchers; Oregon trial reaction.

Angie Bundy, wife of dancer Ryan Bundy, speaks with her husband who is calling from a jail in Oregon Monday, Oct. 31, 2016, in Bunkerville, Nevada. (Ronda Churchill for The Washington Post)

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Rancher Cliven Bundy speaks to the media near the Virgin River Saturday, April 19, 2014, in Bunkerville, Nev. Bundy, a local rancher who owes the federal government about $1 million in unpaid grazing fees, has been in dispute with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. (Ronda Churchill for the New York Times)

Gold Butte national monument proposal vs. Bundy Ranchers; Oregon trial reaction.

A herd of Bundy family cattle free-range Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, in Gold Butte, Nevada. (Photo by Ronda Churchill for The Washington Post)

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Ammon Bundy, left, and his father Cliven stand in front of their supporters and members of the media during a press conference near the Virgin River Saturday, April 19, 2014, in Bunkerville, Nev. (Ronda Churchill for the New York Times)

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Armed militia members stand guard on a hilltop overlooking a Cliven Bundy supporter camp near the Virgin River Saturday, April 12, 2014, in Bunkerville, Nev. Bundy, a rancher who owes the federal government over $1 million in unpaid grazing fees, has been in dispute with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. (Ronda Churchill for MailOnline.com)

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A man lies asleep on a pedestrian bridge above Las Vegas Boulevard. It is sunset, and sweat drips down my back on a warm February day.

Tourists pass him. Some look and whisper to their mates. Others do not acknowledge the man that sleeps on a duffle bag and has a sign nearby that reads “Please Help! Homeless vet; cash-food; God bless.”

He wears a clean navy Las Vegas shirt and cap that appears to be a match. I’ve seen such inexpensive T-shift and cap bundles countless times in gift shops on the Strip and downtown. I wonder how he acquired the clothing. I wonder if someone bought them for him.

I take one frame and pass the man hurrying to get on my way. I have an assignment to get to– the third of four shoots that day. I notice the bridge is shaking ever so slightly yet the man sleeps. He is a child in a car seat in a deep slumber on a long night drive.

My shoot is relatively quick and before I know it, I am crossing back over the bridge making my way to my car. As I approach the man for a second time, I see that he is still asleep. The slow rise and decent of his chest are the only indications of movement from him now or in my absence.

The sight of him takes me in once again. I have passed numerous others begging for money while out on the Strip that day, but no one catches my curiosity like this man. I stop because I’m compelled to do so. I wait for passersby and take a few more frames. The bridge is really moving this time, and I am aware of the sporadic crowds of people that notice me. I wish to know more about this man and his story. I do not want to wake him and time is not on my side.

The man seems so calm and peaceful. I speculate: A sleeping man on a busy bridge must be unaware of the chaos around him, or perhaps he is so comfortable with his surroundings that he is able to sleep. His legs are crossed and his shoulders relaxed. He looks as though he could be my friend passed out on my big comfy gray couch at home. But he is not at my home or anyone else’s. His place of rest is the street.

*According the Southern Nevada Regional Planning Coalition’s homeless census there were an estimated 34,397 homeless people in Southern Nevada last year.

XXXcellent people watching

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Ron Terry, center, takes a photo with models Gia Page, from back left, Melissa Moore and Marsha May at the Mofos.com booth during the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo 2016 at Hard Rock hotel-casino Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, in Las Vegas. The 4-day expo featured adult entertainers, merchandise, and the latest technology in the adult entertainment industry.

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(left) entertainer changes from sneakers into high heels (right) an adult toy designed to look like actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is shown

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People walk through the hallway in outside the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo 2016 at Hard Rock hotel-casino Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, in Las Vegas.

 

I asked a man for his name after I took his photograph for the newspaper, and I received a very unusual response. Not only did he reply, but also he invited me to participate in an orgy.

“We’d love to have you,” he said overly enthusiastically as he handed me a card to join his local orgy club.

I had my cameras in tow. My jaw was open for sure. This was definitely a first for me.

Today I covered the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, a four-day long event in Sin City that culminates with an adult film awards show, sort of like the GRAMMYs, but for porn.

Every year the expo follows the Consumer Electronics Show, the largest convention in town. In past years, when it’s time for the “porn convention,” as us locals call it, I have either been booked, out of town, or the [porn] stars have not aligned and was unable to cover the show.

This year, I was a kid on her way to Disneyland when my editor granted my request to shoot the big show. It was time I experienced the pull of it all.

It wasn’t that I was excited to cover the show because I would get to see a bunch of scantily-clad porn stars and some, quite frankly pervy sex stuff– I was excited because I had a chance to shoot something weird and wacky in my town. Give me a mailbox in the desert believed to be the portal to the extraterrestrial; a roomful of doctors performing knee replacement surgery on cadavers (some legs only); a massive home museum filled with movie props and exotic flotsam that is open to the public once a year, because I live for this sort of assignment.

(By the way, I have photographed all of those things.)

The Adult Entertainment Expo did not fail to meet my expectations. In fact, it surpassed them. It was the mecca of all weird and wacky. I had no idea that people had fetishes involving dressing up as babies in actual diapers. I didn’t know that there was an entire market that pined for extremely young women of a certain ethnicity or that a person can have the illusion of having grown their own animal tail by inserting a “toy” adorned with long fur up somewhere naughty. I guess to say that I was naïve before entering the show is a bit of an understatement.

My computer is also naïve. Next time I bring in it in to Apple for a check-up or repair, I will certainly clear my browser history and remove some 600 images from the show. I write all of my photo captions and have to check facts and company spellings, which includes performing many Internet searches and firmly closing pop-up windows. I’m afraid I may be on some national watch list after completing this gig.

All and all, I really enjoyed my day of people watching and covering an event that was very foreign to me. I didn’t bring back any souvenirs from my trip to the adult theme park, but I did bring back a lot of cards handed to me by the entertainers I photographed as well as pamphlets from eager vendors. I think it’s time I throw my ThinkTank camera and media pouches into the laundry. Immediately.

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(left) I try out virtual reality porn goggles. (right) my MacBook pro and show loot/notes.

For a link to the Review-Journal story:

http://www.reviewjournal.com/business/porn-pros-put-out-whats-new-las-vegas-convention

Mark Christianson (cq) gives a kiss to Darcy Annie, a 4-month-old buckskin filly, during an adoption event outside the Bureau of Land Management’s Southern Nevada District Office Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in Las Vegas. Orphan wild horse foals that were rescued from drought-stricken public lands in Cold Creek near Las Vegas in September were available for purchase in a silent auction. (Ronda Churchill/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Mark Christianson  gives a kiss to Darcy Annie, a 4-month-old buckskin filly, during an adoption event outside the Bureau of Land Management’s Southern Nevada District Office Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in Las Vegas. Orphan wild horse foals that were rescued from drought-stricken public lands in Cold Creek near Las Vegas in September were available for purchase in a silent auction. (Ronda Churchill/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

I may be 35 years old, but on Dec. 19, 2015, all I wanted for Christmas was a pony.

After what seemed like the hardest workweek of 2015, which included a very dramatic change-of-ownership with the newspaper I work with looming in the news and minds of myself and my colleagues, I was happy to see that my Saturday assignment was “HORSE_ADOPTION.”

I left my house headed to a silent auction for wild horse foals, 4 fillies to be exact, which were rescued from the Cold Creek area outside of Las Vegas this past summer. The foals had suffered severe malnutrition and had survived by the help of a local husband and wife team along with their fellow equestrian friends and community.

The fact that I know nothing about horses, as my first sentence reveals (ponies are a specific type of small horse and are not the word for a baby horse) or the fact that I live in the suburbs with a pool in my backyard didn’t matter the moment I saw light-haired Darcy Annie.

Darcy Annie, who was named after the woman who found her, was so malnourished that when the veterinarian came to evaluate her there was concern whether she would have to be euthanized. Luckily, she was spared and had to be fed horse formula while other rescues ate hay and supplements.

This morning, Darcy was a bundle of love and energy. She constantly moved about her corral often nudging her stall mate and her water bucket equally. She eagerly wandered over to outstretched hands and offered actual kisses to anyone who put their face near her muzzle.

Clearly, Darcy won the race. She was the only one to earn the coveted ride to her “forever home.”

Soon after the auction ended, the other horses were loaded into a trailer returning to their foster home. Darcy was left standing solo in a once-bustling corral waiting for her new owner. I felt sad and as silly, as my logical/journalist-remain-impartial brain denies it, I felt love towards this horse I had met only 90 minutes prior.

“What is wrong with me?” I thought.

After I sat here typing this; looked through 350 odd images; selected the best; cropped, toned, captioned and sent them on their way, I felt that nothing is wrong with me.

Who wouldn’t want a special animal that made them feel happiness by merely watching it interact with others- and let’s face it, caving to interact with it once there was no one else in line?

Animals have that specialness about them. Anyone who has ever owned one can tell you that. Darcy definitely is a prized one.

* I dedicate this blog post to my friend Veronica Travez, who lost her sweet dog Bella to cancer this summer around the time Darcy Annie almost lost her battle to survive.