December 22, 2011


I found Naomi while on a feature hunt along the lake shore on Wednesday.  She was looking out across the bay and I snapped this photo before she became aware that I was taking her picture.  It was her birthday and she was looking for an escape from the city.  I could relate and we talked for a few minutes before I continued on through the fog.


December 19, 2011

Big Wheel

Before the famous plastic tricycle took the name a "Big Wheel" referred to a logging apparatus invented and used in Michigan in the late 19th century.  A gentleman in Sanford recently assembled a team to construct one and once it was completed Moses Yoder drove it to the Sanford Historical Museum with his Belgian horses Amos and Andy.


December 16, 2011

Dropping some sweet beets

[okay.  HORRIBLE pun, I know.  but these are sugar beets that were spilled off of M-30 earlier this week.  no one was seriously injured in the crash.]

Farm media tour

From back when the grass was green...


December 12, 2011

December 6, 2011


Almost a year ago to the day I wrote this as an email and attached the photo to a close circle of friends.  Looking at it today, it still applies to me.  I know it's not a great photo, and it'll never be in any portfolio, but it matters to someone.


I was done.  I was mentally checked out of the game and was thinking about other things - like cold medicine and my bed.  Jasper lost the basketball game in the third period and by the fourth both teams had put in their sophomores.  I was sitting in the second row of the bleachers (which had started to empty), camera in my lap and was waiting for the last few minutes to tick off the clock so I could snap a photo of the scoreboard and leave.

"Are you Neil?"

I turned around and a woman wearing a gray sweatshirt with "Jasper" emblazoned in yellow and black across the front introduced herself as the mother of Jack, a 10-year-old that I had snapped a feature photo of the week before.  It ended up running in color on the front page.

"I just wanted to tell you how thrilled we were to see it," she said. "We've gotten a lot of compliments."

We chatted a bit more about her son and I told her the circumstances of the photo, how it came about, how I had Jack hold my camera as I shimmied up the basketball hoop, how my battery died after blindly firing 12 frames.  It was one of those slow news days and we needed a feature.  I also needed to print out some DVD labels for my portfolio and on my way to Dave's house to use his printer I decided to swing up a side street to see if anyone was outside.  It was a cold November day and I wasn't expecting much but sure enough, there was Jack shooting free throws in his driveway after school.  The entire interaction lasted about 10 minutes.

As I walked out of the high school tonight I thought how easily I forget what it means for people to be in the paper.  It could years before Jack has another opportunity to be featured in his home town paper.  Whoever I'm photographing, whatever I'm feeling at the moment, no matter how rushed I am, they deserve my best.

When I was a counselor at a small camp in northern Michigan the director had a phrase that he started repeating after the first few weeks had gone by and the exhaustion had started to show up in our faces.  "You've been here X number of weeks, but remember, it's their first week here."  In the same way, by now I've turned in hundreds of photos and met hundreds of people while doing this job, but for them it could be their first (or only) time in the paper.


November 15

During the opening week of deer season I spent a few hours with Zach and his dad, Rich, out in their deer blind for a story I was working on.  It was a unique experience being that still in the woods.  Listening.  Watching.  Letting your breathing fall into a pattern.  Stillness.  Seconds turning into minutes, minutes turning into hours.  I lost all sense of time, just being there letting my mind drift.  I lost myself in my thoughts.  Something I can easily do away, but being there, watching the shadows lengthen in the forest was good.  Calming.


December 3, 2011

Mobile Meat Processing


"Classic country tunes float through the crisp November air on opening day from a white trailer parked in the woods at a Sanford home.  Inside, two men work diligently shoulder to shoulder slicing venison.  A cut here.  A cut there.  Cut, slice, cut, slice, cut, slice.  They have the rhythm down.  “The whole secret is to know where your fingers are at,” one of them says about ensuring that they don’t end up sliced themselves.  “Don’t force it.”

The advice comes from Gary Giddings as he cuts up an eight point buck for Rich Hale and his fourteen year old son, Zach, who killed the deer. Giddings, a Midland man, started his business, Mobile Meat Processing, three years ago but he’s been working in the meat industry long before taking his skill to the road.  He’s worked as a butcher since the eighth grade and graduated from the National School of Meat Cutting in Toledo, Ohio in 1982.

Giddings is proud of his door to door service.  “When I leave it’s in their freezer,” he says.  As far as he knows he’s the only mobile processing unit in the state. A few hours later, the meat is packaged and turned over to the Hales and the white trailer rumbles off through the woods. This time of year, they process a lot of deer, but they have upcoming jobs with hogs and goats.

Back at Gary’s home in Midland, he and his business partner, Nick Moeller, clean the knives and spray out the blood from the white interior.  Gary outfitted the trailer himself.  His wife, Debra, found a trailer with a frame and he went to work putting in the insulation and equipment.  After finishing their day jobs, they load up and drive out to wherever meat needs processing."