Tag Archives: photojournalism

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.

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

“Unknown”

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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

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Fertility/Neplodnost

I have been silently struggling with infertility for the past 3.5 years. This sentence is hard to write.

Making images is easy. It keeps my world right.

The following frames were shot within several days of traveling and hiking in Croatia in January. The cost of hiking a bucket-list national park is minute compared to the colossal cost of treatment.

These images reflect my feelings with my fertility struggle.

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Intergalactic Art Car Festival

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On a very windy Saturday evening, a vacant lot in downtown Las Vegas was transformed into a futurist light and fire show. Members of the community were drawn to the event like bugs are seduced by lantern light on a dark, summer night.

For one evening, we had our own little Burning Man in the desert. Decorated cars and sculptures suddenly transformed and moved, all seemingly fueled by the surrounding upbeat techno music. Children laughed and pointed as parents and young lovers alike took photos and danced. People came as they were and left with a smile in their heart. That’s the funny thing about art; it moves you.

Photographer note: All images shot on iPhone X. Ronda Churchill is a freelance photographer based in Las Vegas available for hire worldwide.

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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

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.

 

 

 

 

Day 1 in Nevada

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Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Nev, center, is swarmed by the news media while making the first purchase of the morning at The Reef Dispensary.

My dashboard clock displayed 2:10 a.m., and I was stuck in a McDonald’s drive-thru sandwiched between a truck and a car, with shrubbery to my right. I looked to the intercom, where a voice minutes earlier had asked me to “please hold,” and I stared in a tired trance at a hand-written sign taped to it that read: The ONLY sauces we have are: ketchup, mustard and spicy mustard. ONLY.

I wanted to scream. I still had one dispensary left to photograph for my Day 1 coverage assignment for Leafly.com, one of my favorite freelance clients to work for these days. Legal recreational marijuana sales for adults age 21 and over in Nevada had begun at midnight.

After I languished 20 minutes in the drive-thru, an exhausted looking manager finally handed me my Happy Meal and giant cup of water (they were sold out of bottled water, too) with a sigh and a “thank you for being patient.” I thought that it was appropriate that the only place open at 2 a.m. near the dispensaries was short-handed and out of everything.

Hours earlier, I had started my evening at Essence Cannabis, the only dispensary that has a Las Vegas Strip address. There I found a growing line of excited individuals and loads of fellow journalists. I quickly got to work photographing the line outside, then went inside behind the counter to get close-ups of the goods: strains of marijuana in vials that resembled blood-collection tubes; square “sniff jars” – containers that let customers inspect samples at an intimate olfactory level; edibles in the form of cookies and gummies; and even colorful, swirly smoking pipes.

When I tried to leave Essence, my car was blocked by a delivery truck. It felt as though everyone in Las Vegas was right where I was at that exact moment. Eventually, I was able to move on to my next stop: Reef Dispensary.

At Reef, the vibe was quite different. I found myself in the center of a giant party. Characters passed me wearing neon clothes and wildly colored hair while Average Joe types scuffled about in their jeans and sneakers, maneuvering the crowded space, making way for disabled patrons. In addition to a hefty line, there were food trucks, weed-related sponsors with merchandise, and a large, rotating spotlight that screamed for miles: “This is the place to be!”

It was close to midnight, and media chaos ensued. I was trying to stay near the front door and state Sen. Tick Segerblom, whom I needed to photograph, when an unannounced firework show exploded in the dark sky. Of course it did. This beautiful firework shot would be best captured from across the street.

I made a quick decision to skip the firework photo I envisioned and stay close to the senator. Immediately after the fireworks ended, security ushered me and some 25 other members of the media through the door so we could capture the first marijuana purchase of the morning, by the senator. Did I mention Southern Nevada is a pretty cool place to live?

Having calculated carefully in advance, I knew I had roughly 30 minutes to get everything I needed inside the dispensary – shots of the senator, scene setters and a couple interview shots – before I had to edit for my 1:30 a.m. deadline.

I left Reef on schedule and decided that editing photos in my car in a shady, industrial area at 12:30 a.m. was not a good idea. I quickly drove to the nearest open place to set up shop, which happened to be the luxurious Palace State hotel-casino. Google it.

I scurried through the familiar casino to find an area I knew might have an open table and a sandwich shop where I could grab some much-needed water. The tables were there – full; the sandwich shop was there – empty and closed. I was more than disappointed, but then saw I that the nearby Sportsbook was deserted on the one side that contained rows of tables where, during the day, older gentlemen would sit with cigars and scorecards watching the ponies on TV.

I edited marijuana photos, undisturbed, for an hour next to another late-night worker at his computer. It was as good an office as I could have asked for, albeit I longed for a giant glass of water – or something stronger.

After I was content that my initial deadline was fulfilled, I drove from the casino to the Golden Arches across the street, blissfully unaware that I was about to be stranded in drive-thru limbo.

When I finally, graciously accepted my Happy Meal from Mr. Nice Manager, I chugged the entire cup of water, then stuffed a few fries into my mouth as I drove to Oasis, the last dispensary on my list. I sat in the dark parking lot eating nuggets until 2:45 a.m. Leafly needed my entire submits toned and captioned by 6 a.m., so I gave myself a new deadline: Be home by 4 a.m., which left me about 45 minutes at this last destination to make magic happen.

Oasis Medical Cannabis had clearly been a party earlier in the night. Nude models wearing paint wandered around with beers; a taco cart was closing up shop; people were socializing in the spotlights that lit the dark area where a strong line of people waited to get into the dispensary at nearly 3 a.m. In the parking lot later, I ran into an artist friend of mine, who had been painting at the party earlier in the evening. He had a gorgeous body-painted model with him, who was doing all sorts of acrobatics near a spotlight.

I made my way to security and into the dispensary. A first room held an abundance of people who had their ID’s checked and were waiting to get into The Coveted Room, a larger space that had bud specialists and product, where orders were placed on iPads. A waiting area with ATM branched off that room, where customers patiently waited for their orders to be filled. The whole process was a waiting room inside a bigger waiting room with a long waiting line outside. I have never seen so many people jammed into one space, except for perhaps at any Las Vegas branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Oasis’ customers were superbly more calm and friendly than any person I have ever encountered at the DMV. By the time I finished my shots – including some frames of my artist friend and his companion, it was nearing 4 a.m. I still had to do my final edits.

At home, I wearily completed my work. Sunrise was lighting the room as I crawled into bed to snuggle up to my snoozing husband at 5:30 a.m. – a half-hour before deadline.

Life, and news, kept happening. By the time my images were published, my invoice was sent in (including that McDonald’s meal as a write-off) and the valley was embracing its new law, Las Vegas was running out of pot. And during the first week marijuana was legal, The Reef (my second stop), suffered a brief fire caused by static electricity.

When I had accepted the assignment, I was concerned that I would not be able to edit and think clearly in the smoke- and aroma- filled early morning hours because I do not smoke marijuana. My editor, who also doesn’t smoke, assured me that I would be OK. “You’ll be fine. Oh, you’ll definitely smell like it, but you’ll be fine,” I recall her telling me. Her words were true. My car and camera pouches smelled of the sweet Mary Jane for a good time after. We had rain the other day, and I swear the humidity reignited it all again.

Whatever expectations a journalist has before going into an assignment, they are usually wrong. Day 1 wasn’t what I expected at all; it was much more. It was a great night’s work, an experience I will never forget. Also, if my future children have questions about marijuana, I am sure to have a story to tell.

 

* for story in Leafly: https://www.leafly.com/news/politics/las-vegas-live-coverage-nevadas-adult-use-cannabis-debut

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Patrons wait in line shortly before the doors open at midnight at Essence Cannabis Dispensary on the Strip.

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Laura Davidson, who wears body paint, poses near a mural, both painted by artist Dray during a Day One party at Oasis Medical Cannabis.

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Dawn Weir, center left, interviews customer Candace Foshee, center right, on a cell phone for a cannabis-themed radio show while customers wait in line behind them at The Reef Dispensary.

 

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Customers wait for their orders to be filled at Oasis Medical Cannabis.

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Patrons waiting in line take and share personal photographs and video on their cell phones of a firework display at to The Reef Dispensary moments before doors open at midnight.