I typically cover the cultural aspects of everyday life. I look for unusual or unexpected moments that pass between people and I’m interested in history and its effects on modern-day society.
My mother bought me a K1000 Pentax camera for my 17th birthday and I was instantly hooked. Soon afterwards, I set up a small darkroom in a spare bathroom in my parent’s home in North Carolina. At night the darkroom was a place where I could escape from the world and express myself in a positive, creative way.
I studied photography under professors Robert Heist and Jerry Howell at what was then the Randolph Technical Institute in Asheboro, NC. Later the school became part of the state’s community college system. Heist was a great teacher and motivator who didn’t listen to excuses from his students. He used a system of tough love that helped me grow and become a hard worker. Howell was the artist who showed me the beauty of composition and the history of photography. He helped me see how inspiration can come from past photographers and how to create my own style.
My first assignment out of college was a horrible car accident in Monroe, NC, during which I witnessed a man burn alive. I was one of the first people on the scene and it was a jolt to my spirit that there was nothing I could do to help him escape. The next day, after my photos appeared in print, I understood the hard decisions that take place when editing photos for publication. We decided what to do and checked several times that no part of the victim was in the images we published.
Photojournalism has given me the gift of empathy and taught me how to walk in other people’s shoes. It has taught me not to make judgments about character.
Last year I covered the cotton harvest here in South Carolina. During the assignment I followed farmer Roy Baxley and his crews for two days and he made a positive impression on me with his dedication to his workers, family and land. Two weeks after I finished the story, Baxley died of a heart attack and the photos I took suddenly became a history of the man for his family. During the funeral, Baxley’s relatives thanked me for the pictures and told me how important my images had become to them.
I’m excited by any assignment that allows me to see the beauty in life and find out more about it.
My biggest lesson has been to never make judgments but to always double-check the facts.
I respect my wife Chris and my family. We married three years ago but before I met her she raised her two children on her own for many years. She has a sense of dedication and a spirit I admire deeply.