I cannot remember a new year as fraught with drama and trauma as the one that is upon us. At this point I don’t think anyone of any political persuasion has a clue as to what the political, social, or economic ramifications of the new presidential administration will be.
But living in fear doesn’t do any good. Based upon what has worked for us in the past, we must make plans and make choices that will help us achieve our dreams and goals.
Personally I have always been a fan of fresh starts. My experience has been that the best way to pursue happiness is to jump into the deep end of life and start swimming.
My first paid teaching experience was working as a substitute teacher in the Omaha Public Schools. I remember waking up and listening for the phone to ring with feelings of both anticipation and dread. I needed and wanted the work, but I never knew quite what the day would bring.
Walking into an unfamiliar school and class room each day was an adventure. The regular teacher may or may not have provided detailed lesson plans. Some times the students were polite and cooperative, and other times they saw me as fresh meat. I learned to be flexible, to think on my feet and to stay calm no matter what took place. I learned that each classroom and each child is unique. Usually I succeeded in teaching the planned lesson, but sometimes not so much.
Substitute teaching was a valuable experience because whether I ended the day feeling successful or frustrated, I could walk out that door and start all over fresh the next day at another school in another classroom with a new set of students and a different set of challenges. Over the course of the semester my self confidence increased. I met and modeled successful teachers who became my mentors. I observed successful teachers and administrators and they observed me. That spring I was offered a full time position at Benson High School for the following year.
As an English teacher and then as a journalism and photography teacher I liked the idea that each school year and each semester provided an opportunity for a fresh start for both the teacher and student. Each year I tweaked my lesson plans and prepared new strategies to more effectively engage students and present the material. I never grew tired of reading and teaching Chaucer, Shakespeare Wordsworth and Coleridge, because each time I taught the literature I learned something new myself.
I approach my job as a photojournalist with the same passion. While I have attended hundreds, even thousands of school and sports activities, each event is a new challenge and an opportunity to tell a new story in a new way.
Over the New Year weekend, I reviewed my images from 2016 to pick out the keepers. The secret to becoming a successful photographer is to edit your work and show and publish only your best images. Out of thousands of images I captured last year, I came up with maybe a couple hundred keepers. As I scrolled through the images frame by frame I would often pause to think about the people, the day, and the story associated with one or a set of images. Some of my favorite photos have more to do with the memories they evoke than with photo composition. As an example, I love the picture (above) that captures the moment before Becket Scott plants a pie on South School engineer Steve Ray’s face during a school assembly.
Viewing my photos from last year has me psyched to begin the new year capturing unique and compelling images.
In 2017 I hope to extend my photo treks beyond Washington County. This year marks 150 years of Nebraska Statehood, and I am eager to take part in some of the many celebrations that will take place across the state. I am also inspired by my recent visit to the Joslyn Art Museum to see “Dirt Meridian,” an exhibit of photographs by Andrew Moore. The monumental inkjet photographs document the landscape along the 100th Meridian from Texas, through Nebraska and the Dakotas to Canada. While I have no expectations of making great art, I want to experience and photograph these landscapes for myself.
While I can’t remember a time when I have been less optimistic about the future, I do hope that my fears prove to be unfounded, and I do wish everyone a satisfying and rewarding new year.