#blacklivesmatter in Phoenix, Ariz.

Following a violent few weeks in the U.S., the black community in and around Phoenix has focused on coming together to grieve and call for change at rallies and community meetings. While there have been multiple groups holding events, the message is clear: change needs to occur more quickly, and police and citizens need to come together to implement those changes. 

While not perfect, this city is doing a good job. Phoenix appointed a new chief of police last week, a black female Phoenix native. Phoenix and Tempe Police have supported and protected protesters this week tirelessly. Different organizations have provided plans to improve relations, including a 12 point plan initiated by the Black Women of Faith campaign. 

It has been a peaceful movement here intent on working toward solutions. I have not seen any animosity or calling for violence against police, just the urgent need for trust between the communities and accountability for those police who use excessive force, leading to the disproportional killing of black Americans.

Tenderfoot Wildfire

On June 8, a fire began burning on the east side of Yarnell, Ariz. the other side of town from a deadly fire in 2013 that killed 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots, the elite wildland fire crew based in Prescott, Ariz. That fire was on a lot of people’s mind this week as the towns of Yarnell and Peeples Valley were evacuated, the highway to Phoenix closed and crews of firefighters, emergency personnel and incident strategy teams set up Incident Command Post in Peeples Valley to fight the Tenderfoot fire. As of writing on June 11, there are 6 Hotshot crews, 2 Type 2 initial attack crews 22 Engine crews, 2 light, 3 heavy helicopter 2 air attack fixed wing aircraft platforms, 3 bulldozers, logistics, support, managers and volunteers totaling upwards of 350-400. It takes a lot of people, resources, money and time to fight wildland fire. They are doing really well as of today — no people or homes have been lost. Three outbuildings have been lost. The fire is now 30% contained. Wildland fire situations can change with the wind, though. The awareness and preventative action taken after the Yarnell Hill fire likely prevented the fire from spreading nearer to structures and families in Yarnell. Crews have been digging preventative fire lines and clearing fuel for the fire—the dry, high desert foliage—ahead of any incident. While I reported the second and third day at the fire, crews are going to be out there for as long as it takes to run its course. 

Arizona is strict on media on wildland incident scenes. They are unpredictable and can escalate without warning. While on assignment, I photographed the fire from the safety of the ICP, but many men and women are out on the smoke-filled  Weaver Mountains with heavy equipment, hiking rough terrain. I want to share some photos from the days I spent with the crews working so hard to keep us safe and in times of crisis and some of the people affected by these fires.

Deborah Pfingston, mother of Andrew Ashcraft, one of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who were killed in the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire, and her husband Jerry at the Incident Command Post for the Tenderfoot Fire on June 10 in Peeples Valley, Ariz. Deborah brought fresh fruit and beef jerky for the crews working the current fire.

Globe Hotshots plan their next move as theTenderfoot Fire burns on the east side of Yarnell, Ariz. June 9 as seen from the Incident Command Post in Peeples Valley, Ariz.

Yarnell resident Nidia Borboa, center left, watches her children Angel, 5, right, twins Nubia, left, and Nadia (not pictured), 6, and grandsons Michael, 4, right, and Gabriel, 2, second from left, play games in the American Red Cross evacuation center at Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz.

Deborah Pfingston, mother of Andrew Ashcraft, one of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who were killed in the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire, wears a memorial bracelet for her son. The white band is a reproduction of a homemade bracelet that Ashcraft was wearing when he died fighting the fire reminding him to always “be better”.

Wickenburg Fire Chief Ed Temerowski, left, coordinates with private contractors Gene Lumis, center, and Ronnie Hernandez, right, as the crews prepare for another day of battling the Tenderfoot Fire on June 10

A retro-fitted DC-10 plane prepares to drop fire retardant to fight the Tenderfoot Fire as it burns on the east side of Yarnell, Ariz. on June 9

From left, Aaron Ferro, Sage Polchies and Mike Fewell of Engine 671 from the Carson National Forest near Taos, New Mexico, eat breakfast before fighting the Tenderfoot Fire on June 10

Phoenix NPR affiliate KJZZ reporter Stina Sieg at the scene

Navajo Scout Lyle Joe washes his hands with bottled water in his campsite, as he prepares for another day of battling the Tenderfoot Fire on June 10

Firefighters prepare for another day of battling the Tenderfoot Fire on June 10

Tatanka Hotshot Adam Ayala fills and carries three five-gallon cubbies of water in preparation for fighting the Tenderfoot Fire on June 10

A helicopter carries buckets of water to fight the Tenderfoot Fire as it burns on the east side of Yarnell, Ariz. on June 9

Peeples Valley resident Jerry Goffena watches as the Tenderfoot Fire burns on the east side of Yarnell, Ariz. June 9 as seen from the Incident Command Post in Peeples Valley, Ariz. The deadly 2013 Yarnell Hill fire was on the west side of town. Goffena said he watched the 2013 fire burn all night, “You remember reading Exodus with the plume of smoke by day and the pilar of fire by night?”

Navajo Scouts rest briefly in the shade while setting up a resupply station for crews working the Tenderfoot Fire on June 10

Globe Hotshots plan their next move as theTenderfoot Fire burns on the east side of Yarnell, Ariz. on June 9

Firefighters from the Bureau of Land Management out of Phoenix, Ariz. prepare for another day of battling the Tenderfoot Fire June 10 at the Incident Command Post in Peeples Valley, Ariz.

Tribal Nations Rescue Team firefighter Louis Charlie Jr. hammers in a stake to set up a resupply station June 10 at the Incident Command Post in Peeples Valley, Ariz.

A retro-fitted DC-10 plane drops fire retardant to fight the Tenderfoot Fire as it burns on the east side of Yarnell, Ariz. on June 9

Outtakes from FORM: Arcosanti for The New York Times

Maggie Viols, center left, and Molli Kleeman, both of Chicago, talk in the hot tub May 14 in Arcosanti, Ariz.

The general campsite at sundown May 14 in Arcosanti, Ariz.

Miró Justad (of the band Tangerine) and Richard Owen (of the band Fauna Shade) cuddle while watching Kodak To Graph (Mikey Maleki, featuring Brandon Warren on drums) perform May 15 in Arcosanti, Ariz.

Saul Williams performs May 14 in Arcosanti, Ariz.

Dawn Richard, third from the right, waits backstage with her dancers before their performance as D∆WN on May 13 in Arcosanti, Ariz.

Ashley Smoot of Miami sits by the window in the café May 15 in Arcosanti, Ariz.

Artist Alexa Meade of Los Angeles live paints Wendell Li of Oakland as part of a commission for FORM: Arcosanti on May 14 in Arcosanti, Ariz. Meade paints her subjects and then photographs them to make them appear two dimensional.

John Michael Picard of Los Angeles congratulates his girlfriend Lorely Rodriguez (Empress Of) after her performance on May 14 in Arcosanti, Ariz. Picard is also Rodriguez’s manager.

Skye Snyder of Eagar, Ariz. applies paint to Tabitha Rose of Venice Beach on May 14 in Arcosanti, Ariz. Rose lead yoga for participants Saturday and Sunday morning at FORM: Arcosanti.

Artists, volunteers and FORM staff eat in the café May 15 in Arcosanti, Ariz.

A view of the “urban laboratory” from the valley below May 13 in Arcosanti, Ariz.

Davina Griego, left, and David Moroney, both of Phoenix, dance atop part of the habitat May 13 in Arcosanti, Ariz.

Alyssa Arroyo and Charles Green of San Francisco perform acro yoga May 14 in Arcosanti, Ariz.

Isaac Fortoul hangs artwork made by his brother Gabriel and himself for FORM: Arcosanti May 13 in Arcosanti, Ariz.

Phoenix electronic producer Mija (Amber Giles) performs May 13 in Arcosanti, Ariz.

I had the indcredible assignment to cover FORM: Arcosanti for The New York Times arts desk. Above are some of the photos I wanted to share that didn’t make it to print.

Here is the finished piece including a beautiful review by JON CARAMANICA and a gallery of images. 

Here’s how it appeared in print. Thank you to Alana Celii and the whole team at the Times who made this possible!

Portraits at FORM: Arcosanti

Josephine Lee of Los Angeles

Ani Baker and Sarah Winters (aka Vōx) of Los Angeles

Zenani Skakur of Ventura, Ca.

Hunter Hoffmann of Phoenix

Deven Williams of Phoenix

Singer Azul Gaucher and Magdalene Herring of Los Angeles

Dakota Gidley of Tempe, Ariz.

Chelsea Harris of Los Angeles

A short portrait series made at FORM: Arcosanti in Mayer, Arizona. I am so grateful to the wonderful people I met and those who allowed me their time for photos. 

Indiana contrast

This past weekend, E and I returned to Indiana for the first time since moving out west together to Arizona. We had a few big events to hit—my sister, Lizzy, turned 21 so we wanted to celebrate with her and my family in Zionsville. Eric’s family had also planned a big reunion in Sullivan, Ind. where I met extended family and we got to pour through old family photos. It was a quick trip, but it was really good.

I needed to see some familiar faces and feel some rain and smell some green grass. I guess I didn’t realize I was homesick until I was home.

A’s pitcher Sean Doolittle and blogger Eireann Dolan for The New York Times

It’s wonderful when kind people see an opportunity to use their platform for meaningful social change. Eireann (pronounced like Erin) and Sean are definitely those kind of people. Through their affiliation with the Oakland Athletics (he pitches, she broadcasts for California’s All A’s program, they’ve helped bring social change to their communities in Oakland, Chicago and Scottsdale. When they spearheaded a Pride night for the A’s and there was backlash—people requested to sell their tickets so they wouldn’t have to endure the inclusive, joyful event *eye-roll*—Eireann quickly responded by blogging that she and Sean would gladly buy them (AND match the ticket sales) to benefit Our Space, a program center for at risk LGBT youth, and then donated the tickets to the center so the kids could come and enjoy the game. 

They held Thanksgiving for 17 refugee families from Syria and sponsor Operation Finally Home, which provides homes for wounded veterans.

If more folks had their passion for helping people, we’d be in a much better world. 

Plus they’re awesome at social media: check Sean out @WhatWouldDooDo on twitter and Eireann at @EireannDolan. You won’t regret it!

Arizona Wildfire & Incident Management Academy

On the 9th, I went up to Prescott, Ariz. to make pictures at the Arizona Wildfire & Incident Management Academy for The New York Times Science desk. The non-profit Academy is in it’s 14th year and is held at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. As it’s predicted to be a long, hot fire season in the Southwest and along the West Coast of the United States, it was impressive and humbling to see so many women and men who were training to keep us safe from out of control fires in our dry part of the country. There were also non-firefighters there to learn how to better cover fires as a journalist, and PIOs and logistics teams in training, among others. I learned a lot! Here’s what I saw:

The start of 2016

It’s been a busy and interesting year so far. Here’s some recent assignment work from January and the beginning of February. Thank you so much for looking!

First, a rally at the Arizona State Capitol by the One PHX initiative opposing anti-immigration bills for The New York Times.

An essay about Dave Henderson Fantasy Camp for ESPN.go

Portraits and a sit-down video interview with Kendra Stabler Moyes, the eldest daughter of the late Ken Stabler, who was found to have advanced C.T.E. following his death in July for The New York Times.

Coverage of a Friday night prayer following attacks on the Islamic Center of Tuscon, Ariz. by University of Arizona students living in the neighboring high-rise apartments for The New York Times.

Tombstone Vigilante Days return following an actor being shot with a live round during a reenactment in October for The New York Times.

And a portrait of Mike Zielinski with his 1957 Chevrolet Belair and 1959 Airstream camper trailer at his home in Paradise Valley, Ariz. for The Wall Street Journal

2015 Reflection

It’s taken me about a week to work up the courage to write this post. At first I was embarrassed that I didn’t meet my goals for 2015. This time last year, I thought that I’d be photographing full time. I would be pitching stories at a community newspaper or shooting assignments for many freelance clients.

I didn’t imagine that many hours of my year would be spent working double shifts in restaurants. And I didn’t want to admit how many times I found myself overwhelmed, crawling under my covers, wracked with too much anxiety to work on projects dear to my heart. I didn’t want to admit that instead of focusing on making pictures and growing relationships, I worried about money and work and doubted whether I was good enough.

I began the year hopefully in Jasper, Indiana, where I finished up a six-month-long internship that changed my heart and eye for the better. Surrounded by mentors and learning to shoot events that had been shot by more talented photographers before me in new, stylish and storytelling ways was an adventure I couldn’t have anticipated. 

Halfway through January I traveled to South Korea (where I studied abroad in 2013) to work on a story about the young North Korean refugee community in Seoul through the generosity of the IU School of Journalism’s Hazeltine Travel Scholarship. I was terrified.

I love Seoul so much and I believe I did good work while I was there. But I psyched myself out about the project so much that when I wasn’t photographing Kyung-ok, I could barely bring myself to do anything but lay in my room. I forced myself to walk the streets and make pictures.

While I was there I collected still images and footage a short documentary. I haven’t been able to share the project yet, because I haven’t finished subtitling and editing the video. This is the thing that fills me with the most dread. The girls I photographed let me into their lives and told me their most treasured stories and I let my anxieties keep their story from being shared. 

I promise it will be soon. 

When I returned, I tried to keep up the momentum, but there was absolutely so much to go through.

About a week after returning, I knew I needed to start making money again so I picked up a job at La Margarita, a lovely restaurant in Fountain Square, the neighborhood in Indy where Eric and Andrew lived. 
While living downtime, I managed to find some freelance work with the Indianapolis Star and a few other local publications.

In March I began shooting senior portraits of family friends and I shot my first wedding, that of Evan and Kenzie Hoopfer, who I met in Bloomington. I was so happy to be making pictures.

I continued to apply for photo work, and eventually landed an internship. I relaxed a little. I had my next thing planned. 

But it fell through because the paper couldn’t afford to keep the program up and running. It was another awakening to the business-side of journalism that I hadn’t given a lot of thought to. 

Around the same time, things in our neighborhood in Indy were getting more dangerous. There were shootings on our street and our house was broken into. A couple weeks later, some kids set an abandoned house next to ours aflame, and our garage burned to the ground. 

Eric, Andrew and I decided to move to Phoenix, Arizona. 

Almost immediately after arriving, I panicked and picked up a restaurant job again. It would just be a stop-gap, I told myself, my parents, my friends. But five months later I’m still working 40~ hours a week and freelancing whenever I can. It’s not bad, though. The owners are Korean and I get to practice speaking with them every day. I’ve learned a lot about the community from regular customers and my co-workers. And it’s helped me to generate a lot of story ideas. 

While I complain too much about the boring work or rude customers, it’s a good place to work and the owner lets me take days off on short notice if I get a call from an editor. Her daughter is a videographer in New York City, so she really does get it.

In October, I attended the Eddie Adams Workshop, for which I had applied many times before unsuccessfully. It was completely surreal to be invited for a weekend of photo family and incredible lessons. 

After I returned from New York, I was able to freelance more and learn more about the culture here in Arizona.

I’ve continued shooting weddings and family shoots whenever I get the opportunity.

While I’m not where I want to be, I have to admit that I am probably in a better place than I give myself credit for. I’m about to enter my 24th year, and I have gotten to photograph for two of my all-time favorite newspapers. Additionally, the personal project Eric and I have been working on was published in Midwest-based Driftless Magazine.

Through it all, my loved ones have been my guiding light. Moving westward to the fifth biggest U.S. city from small-town Indiana roots has been tough. I’ve learned to be more flexible and kind with myself and my goals while still keeping my eye on the prize. I’ve learned to live a more balanced life and to combat my anxiety every day. I’ve made an effort to not get too wrapped-up in how well my peers are shooting and I am no longer embarrassed to tell people I’m a food counter cashier. 

As I look through my photos from the year I have to say it’s been an incredible 2015. Thank you all for your support, it means so much more than I can adequately express.

Copyright © 2017 Caitlin O'Hara. All rights reserved.
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