Big Crowds in Little Italy

_C1_1135The fair/festival season has begun: The annual Tontitown (pronounced like tawny-town) Grape Festival has been going strong this week.

Italian immigrants founded this little town in the late 1800s, and they, as many of them had done in their homeland, grew a lot of grapes. Vineyards of Concord grapes have been such a fixture in the town’s history that they’ve gotten their own festival 117 years running, featuring grape-stomping competitions and community spaghetti dinners on top of the standard carnival rides and booths.

I went up there three times this week, the crowd at least doubling in size each time. Traffic lined up for probably a mile on a four-lane highway to turn into the place before sunset yesterday and it’ll probably be packed during the final run tonight.









_C1_2082Every time I go to a big, public event like this, I feel for a while like I’m relearning how to do photography — relearning how to relax and see the images as they come, relearning how to ask strangers if I can take their picture, relearning where to point the dang thing. I push myself to make images different from and better than the ones from all the other festivals I’ve gone to before.

Once I settled down a bit, I tried playing with the millions of lights on the rides and food stands in new ways and simply keeping my eyes open. A fair is a place of infinite moments, a churning mass of characters at once totally familiar and continuously new. Gaggles of high-schoolers, families towing little kids, straw or gravel covering the ground, a cacophony of chatter and honks and yells and whistles — you could probably imagine any fair fairly accurately without even leaving your chair, yet the people and the stories there have never been seen before. At all times, the photos I’m capturing are a sip from the firehose.







_C1_2599I didn’t stay so long during the third trip last night and don’t have many photos to show for it — like the crowd size, the temperature and humidity have gone up with each day, too. It’ll be around 90 tonight. Be sure to pick up some overpriced water.



_C1_2812Thanks for looking.


The Greenway

Bike trails are a big deal around here.

For the first time, an unbroken thread of paths and trails connects all of the Northwest Arkansas metro, from Bella Vista in the north to Fayetteville at the south end. The cities marked the project’s completion Saturday with a festival of biking, train riding, history walks and food that drew at least a thousand people by my reckoning. A few dozen of them told me the best way to celebrate was riding all 37 miles.

I started the day in Fayetteville, where a couple hundred people gathered in the morning for a bike and train ride to the main event up in Springdale.

But before that, something I didn’t expect: a march, about 40 strong, for Freddie Gray, whose death after being severely injured in police custody sparked protests across the country and has led to criminal charges for six Baltimore officers.

_C1_8877It was a blink-and-you-miss-it deal; I had time for the one photo and they were gone. The cyclists, meanwhile, kept gathering, cheering the train from Springdale when it sounded its horn.



_C1_8945The bunch arrived in Springdale by train or bike half an hour later. More bikers and others flocked in by the hundreds.





_C1_9050Several mayors and other officials gave speeches and thanks to everyone involved; this is a project planned for a decade, under construction for three years and built for $1 million a mile. The speakers touted the trail’s economic impact as well — a topic my co-worker Joel dug into in today’s paper — before leading the crowd in a spirited round of “Woo Pig Sooie.”



_C1_9075Finally, bikers cut the ribbon for the trail at noon.




_C1_9164Not a bad party. Thanks for looking, and take a look at some more photos here, if you like.

One Year Later

_C1_9831 smallNorth Betty Jo Drive, January

Well, it’s been exactly one year since I moved here, started writing for the Northwest Arkansas Times and began learning about this place through a camera lens. It’s time, of course, for the cheesy look back on what a year here has brought.

_C1_1128Dickson Street Mardi Gras

_C1_1446North College Avenue, March

_C1_3484Fayetteville Square Farmers Market, April

I’ve definitely gotten better as time has gone on; I’ve gone to new places, found better settings, become more comfortable getting close to people, and am more confident about finding an image no matter where I am. The original idea of this blog was to keep improving even while I’m not making a living with this stuff, and I think that’s going all right.

_C1_4513Devil’s Den State Park, April

_C1_4961Washington County Courthouse, May

_C1_5239World Treasures, North Block Street, May

More importantly, plenty has happened here in Fayetteville since then, with Mardi Gras and Pride parades, a brief period of same-sex marriage in this county, holidays and fairs and life in general. Even if I don’t capture them well, the people, lives and places in these images are real and worth respecting and remembering. There’s art everywhere, and I just try to catch it.

_C1_5526Kings River Country Store, May

_C1_5955Jefferson Lines Station, June

_C1_6698Fayetteville Pride, June

_C1_8106Ozark National Forest, July

This year is also the first I’ve thought about selling prints of some of these photos. No pressure, but if you’re interested, I’ve got a mostly up-to-date Redbubble page set up here. They print, frame and ship. I’ll also make the plug that while newspaper writing is my primary career at this point, if you want photos of an event taken with a photojournalist’s eye for emotion and detail, I’d be glad to see what I can do.

_C1_8439Lewis Fields, July

_C1_9735Washington County Fair, August

_C1_0297bwGlam Beauty Bar, August

_C1_0919Razorback Football Stadium, September

It’s been a good year here, with plenty of interesting and good people, plenty to write about at work and plenty to photograph. I’m not sure where I’ll end up, but this place is one of my homes now.

_C1_2008Bikes, Blues & BBQ, September

_C1_2455Wilson Park, October

_C1_2691---CopyWinslow, October

_C1_2789---CopyPartial solar eclipse, October

_C1_3125Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, October

As always, thanks for looking.


Fire Pt. 2

_C1_8823My project on rural and volunteer fire departments, which I first mentioned here, came to an end this weekend after three and a half months of work. It’s behind a paywall, but you can read the finished story here, if you like.

I focused more on reporting than photography during the second half of the project, but I still have a few to share. The first few are from an August fire south of Fayetteville; five departments squeezed their tanker trucks down a narrow country lane to fight it, but one man, Dale Cheatham, died inside, likely before crews arrived.



_C1_8972It was so hot around the house the fighters took 15-minute shifts before retreating to this area, where medics checked their vitals and passed out bottles of water.

_C1_8279This photo is from a training meeting up in Goshen. Going through a half-built home is a good way to see and discuss how a home is built, how to approach fires in different parts of the structure, where there’s lots of air to feed a fire, how the floors are constructed. Firefighters, even volunteers, have to keep probably three dozen things in mind as they fight.

Finally, just a few images from a fundraising breakfast for the Northeast Benton County, or NEBCO, department. Many departments are struggling with recruitment and resources, but hundreds of people turned out to support them earlier this month.



_C1_0841As with many long projects, I’m glad I did it, and I’m glad I’m done. I owe so much to all the volunteers, chiefs and supporters who talked with me and let me intrude into their lives for a little while. It’s an amazingly tight-knit and friendly group.

Thanks for looking,