Children of Fremont

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Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas is home to historic casinos and is littered with personality. It is a magnet for street performers, otherwise known as buskers, who make their living on the 1,500-ft. stretch of heavily trampled upon road that is restricted to pedestrian traffic.

Every time I find myself in the popular area, I am intrigued by the youngest of tourists that make their way through my fair town and wonder what sort of questions they may have about what they see. How do they process it all? What do their parents think? Why are they up at this hour; and did they recently get off an overseas flight and are hardwired for another time zone? My questions are endless.

One thing is certain: the youngest pair of eyes is guaranteed to see it all on any given evening in Sin City. What this means for the child, I do not know. Do we ever quite know?

Gift Shop Opt

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An Asian woman was walking with a small group in front of me near the Strip last week.

Immediately, I noticed her outfit. We all did. She was quite literally a walking advertisement for my town topped with a rhinestone USA hat. Head-to-toe she wore bright colors, patterns and sequins. Her personality matched her outfit. She was bedazzled.

I stopped her and attempted light conversation while we approached a crosswalk. There was clearly a language barrier, and she ushered over her friend to help us communicate. I discovered the fashionista on Paradise Road was from China. She gestured that her entire ensemble was from the nearby gift shop. I gave her a warm smile and in exchange, she let me take her photograph.

Something about this cheery and kind tourist stood out: She was so happy and excited to be here that she bought an entire outfit proclaiming it.

I found myself wishing I felt more like this woman. I wish I could bottle her energy and happiness and drink it. I wish I could go around and give my new Bottled Happy Tourist to grumpy people I encounter in my city constantly: road-raged divers, rude customers, bitter coworkers, and the list goes on.

We parted ways at the crosswalk, and I found my car.

As I type this blog, I can’t help but think what if the woman and I were to swap places and I was a tourist in China. Would I find something fun and crazy in a shop to wear? I doubt there would be a Chinese version of this. Would natives think what I was wearing was different or silly? Would I know that they thought I was different and silly? Would someone be writing a blog about me?

I suppose I would find a traditional Qi Pao, a Chinese silk robe with patterns and piping lining the seams. Something tells me that wearing one wouldn’t have the same effect on the streets in China as wearing the outfit in this photo does in the US. However, I am 5’7″ and clearly not Asian, so perhaps I would cause a stir at a crosswalk.

Well that settles it. I need to visit China.

Thank you to the woman in this photo. You brought cheer to my day  today and to the day I shot the photo– a day I had been walking around for hours toting gear. I can only hope that one day you will stumble across my blog, and I can send you a print. Wouldn’t that be a gem?!

Bling Bling Icing

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Acrylic rhinestones and faux gold embellishments are shown in a case.

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Colorful boas (left) and felt squares (right) are displayed.

It is the perfect stop for all things fun and pretend. The moment you walk through the door and round the corner by the counter, adult worries and everyday life are replaced by the endless possibilities of a child’s fantasy. Creativity comes to life with each touch of a feather, each glimpse of fabrics and trimmings and every peek into case after case of tiny jewels.

Want to be a pirate? Done. Want to be a king? Done, done. Want to be a showgirl? Absolutely done!

Williams Costume Company is the treasure chest; what will be your booty?

If crafting is not a strong point, there is also an entire apartment-sized room stocked with multi-piece and custom-made costumes ready for rent.

The store, which has been a neighborhood anchor for 60 years, receives customers of all kinds. A clerk told me that “anybody and everybody that has a creative side” are clientele. Customers include: theater people; costume and clothing designers; street performers; crafters; jewelry makers and students.

On a rainy Saturday a couple hours before closing, my sisters, husband and I were lost in the store calling out to one another rows apart to come see what we had found in our corn maze of creativity.

With my iPhone only, I started to document my discoveries; I hope you enjoy this little gallery of treasures.

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Miscellaneous metal and acrylic notions are displayed in a case.

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A showgirl headdress, masks (left) and wigs (right) are shown.

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Colorful chains (left) of different sizes available for custom length is shown, Sister Michelle (right) poses for personal photograph with Marilyn Monroe next to funky Elvis painted on store exterior.

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Feminine fancies are displayed in a case.

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)