Break out the sparklers, it’s the last day of the last year of the decade, and it’s time for a whole lot of us photographers to pull out our best and favorite shots of the year to stick on the refrigerator. If you’ll indulge me, I’ll keep it brief: what a year. I didn’t post as much on here because I wanted to focus on good opportunities, and I think I found them. In fact, I think I pushed my photography the furthest it’s ever gone — in nature, on the street and at work. I’ve gotten to know Minnesota in all of its seasons. I got married and visited three national parks. I made plans and hopes for the next year and the next decade. What a year!
Thanks, as always, for looking. A happy new year to you.
Yamuna was already dead when I met her seven years ago, in the words of several activist and environmental groups, but they’re still trying to revive her. It hasn’t worked yet.
Yamuna is both a Hindu goddess and a major river that flows through India’s capital, a metropolitan area of tens of millions of people, before joining the Ganges. Yamuna is sacred and essential to all of those lives in one way or another. Their drinking water comes from her. They grow food with her help. They worship alongside her. They wash clothes with her water or pick through her shores and beneath her surface for a living. They destroy her, ecologically speaking, with their raw industrial and human waste on a colossal scale. And they endure her revenge in the form of lost fish and other aquatic life, infectious and waterborne disease and toxic metal exposure.
I previously posted on here a photojournalism project I did in college about the river and its paradoxes. This week I revisited my archive for that project for the first time since 2012. It turns out I forgot about a few pictures that aren’t too bad, so I thought I’d share some with you. But it’s also a chance to see if anything has improved in India’s core. The answer seems to be mostly no.
In just the last couple of weeks, poisonous foam coated Yamuna’s surface during a religious festival. And earlier this year, a project to capture and treat the huge amount of sewage flowing into the river missed its latest deadline. That project is the third of its kind in more than 20 years.
I also wonder how the people I met back then are doing. Dozens of locals put up with a random American college student who came out of nowhere to ask about their stories. Banny Miya and his family and Babi Devi and hers grew crops beside the river. Seventeen-year-old Saddam and his family washed clothes and linens in it, and he hoped to become an engineer. Gauri Singh, a young mother, angrily said nothing changes. I might never find out what came next for them.
As for the Yamuna, it’s only one of many environmental issues for India; Delhi’s air has made recent headlines for being some of the most polluted and dangerous in the world. We’ll see if Yamuna Action Plan Phase III accomplishes what phases I and II couldn’t. There are a few small reasons for optimism, such as some recent adjustments to religious ceremonies that might’ve cut down on one form of pollution.
Regardless, India’s struggles aren’t just some far-off problem. We all share this planet’s atmosphere and ocean. And our own country knows a little something about arguing over environmental disaster. Yamuna and other natural places have something to teach all of us.
For the first time in five years, I consistently get to take photos for my job. It feels great.
I started more than six weeks ago leading two weekly newspapers in the Twin Cities suburbs: the Prior Lake American and Savage Pacer. It’s a relatively small operation that nonetheless takes a lot of work. I oversee two reporters and help get their work into the best shape possible, I work with other editors and reporters at six other weeklies that are part of the same company, I edit everything that goes in mine and work with designers to decide where it all goes in my papers. And I also get to report and photograph on my own. Above, for example, I watched a little CLIMB Theatre skit about nature and conservation at a Prior Lake elementary school last week. To understate, this is not a bad gig. Here’s a sample of some other things I’ve been up to.
A Shakopee establishment called Pablo’s was voted the best Mexican restaurant and restaurant overall in our coverage area, the southwest metro. I can’t say I’d mind taking a lot more food photos:
And I wrote a little outdoor feature all about the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which stretches over several miles of wetlands, streams and forests along the metro’s south. Look for that one, with some of these photos attached, this weekend:
Meissinger said he grabbed an extension ladder and smashed it through Pannell’s bedroom window. Gray smoke billowed out and he couldn’t see, even with his flashlight. He hollered several times for Pannell but got no response, he said.
Then he said he remembered Pannell fought in the Battle of the Bulge and still dreams of it. Meissinger called out his rank: “Command Sgt. Maj. Pannell!”
“‘What, what’s going on?’” Meissinger said he heard immediately. “I said, ‘You gotta get to this light!’ As soon as I felt his hand the war was on.”
Meissinger was able to pull his father-in-law to safety, and he was shortly taken for treatment of minor injuries. Meissinger said nurses told him Pannell was likely a dozen seconds from death.
Just an astounding story from here, and it’s really a coincidence only that I got to be the one writing about it. I’m sharing it also because these are the first photos I’ve been able to take at my job here, though they aren’t much to look at. Meissinger’s on the left:
Thanks for looking, and if you celebrate Christmas, I hope it was a merry one.