Category Archives: Photography

From Army Life to Derby Wife

***Derby wife: A term coined by Kasey Bomber of the Los Angeles Derby Dolls in 2003. Urban Dictionary defines as “A roller derby soul mate, the woman who you knew from the first second that you’d been separated at birth, who will hold your hair when you throw up after drinking too much, arrange bailride in the ambulance with you and set your real husband straight on the Derby world.”
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Cassi Ackels-Weatherby hugs her 5-year-old Saint Bernard, Lady, while enjoying an after work beer on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

 

26-year-old U.S. Army veteran Cassi Ackels-Weatherby has always been a skater. As a child, she enjoyed inline skating and going to the skating rink. In 2009 Ackels-Weatherby decided to try roller derby.

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Cassi Ackels-Weatherby “Battle-Scarred Beauty” looks at her coach Chris Ryan “Thunder” during a training drill for Central Michigan Mayhem’s practice on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 at The Hardwoods in Ithaca, Michigan.

 

Ackels-Weatherby said her mother pointed out a flier hanging in the hallway of their workplace.

“She made a comment about how I should play because I’m a brute,” said Ackels-Weatherby. “I went to practice the next day.”

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Cassi Ackels-Weatherby puts on her knee pads for roller derby practice at The Hardwoods in Ithaca, Michigan on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

Her roller derby career was interrupted shortly after joining the Central Michigan Mayhem team when she was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. She was there for a year and worked as an 88M Motor Transport Operator, what Ackels-Weatherby said is just a fancy term for a truck driver.

She was deployed for a second time to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from 2015-2016 and since coming back has active with Central Michigan Mayhem and is the head of both the fundraising and event committees for the team.

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Cassi Ackels-Weatherby “Battle-Scarred Beauty” laughs with Central Michigan Mayhem teammate Candice Roestel “Vex Machine” during a break from practice on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

After returning from her deployments Ackels-Weatherby settled on Battle-Scarred Beauty as her roller derby name. She said wanted it to be feminine but also to acknowledgement to her military experience, something that had been part of her life for eight years

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Central Michigan Mayhem roller derby skaters practice at The Hardwoods in Ithaca, Michigan on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

During the day, she works as a Board Services Coordinator at the National Charter Schools Institute in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. Ackels-Weatherby and her mother usually meet for lunch and sometimes carpool to work.

Since returning from her last deployment Ackels-Weatherby has been living with her mother while looking for an affordable place to live that will allow her to bring her 5-year-old Saint Bernard Lady, and her 4-year-old German Shepherd, Sheriff.

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Cassi Ackels-Weatherby talks to her mother while getting dressed for roller derby practice at their home in Sumner, Michigan on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

Ackels-Weatherby said she would eventually like to go back to school and pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

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Sports Story Single

For a sports assignment for school I’m following Cassi Ackels-Weatherby, a roller derby skater for Central Michigan Mayhem. The story and additional photos will be posted next week.

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26-year-old roller derby skater Cassi Ackels-Weatherby skates backward during Central Michigan Mayhem’s practice on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

Brown Farms: Four Generations Strong

Since buying Brown Farms in Wheeler, Michigan in 1976 from his mother after his father’s death, James “Jim” Brown, 76, and his wife Phyllis, 75, have owned and operated the farm along with two of their four children, Matt and Darren, and a handful of hired workers. They farm cash crops and currently grow sugar beets, cucumbers, corn, soy beans, and black beans.

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Darren Brown carries material needed to mix in a tank to spray a soybean field on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. 

According to their son, fourth generation farmer Darren, 47, he estimates Brown Farms now owns about 3,500 acres, a far cry from the 40 acres Jim bought in 1976.

Now a full-time worker on the farm, Darren started off as a residential truck driver and hauled propane until the day his daughter Ellie, now 14 years old, was born.

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Darren Brown holds the nozzle on a tractor equipped with sprayers after mixing fertilizer before spraying a soybean field on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. 

He lives less than five miles away from Brown Farms with Ellie and Barbara, Darren’s wife of 17 years. Barbara is a teacher at Breckenridge High School and the couple have three children, two of which are from Barbara’s previous marriage: Benjamin, 24, and Lindsay, 21, both of which are working in Grand Rapids.

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Ellie Brown, 14, holds a picture of her showing her steer Bridget at the county fair in 2014. 

Ellie is a freshman in high school and an avid dancer with a passion for cows. She has shown steers for seven years and the family currently has 10 cows.

She hopes to attend South Dakota State University and work with cows.

“The cows outnumber the people in South Dakota,” Darren jokes.

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Darren Brown and his mother Phyllis Brown look through old photographs at her kitchen table on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. 

Darren’s parents Phyllis and Jim still live on the farm and Jim has yet to retire, still running for parts and driving the big tractor, but now taking off days to go golfing once in a while.

Phyllis grew up on a farm held an active role on Brown Farms and after marrying Jim.

“When the boys were little I used to drive tractors once in a while,” she said. “When they got tractors with cabs on them, I would put the kids on the floor on a blanket and they would sleep all afternoon while I drove. Back then, you took meals to the field. You packed the dinner and you took it to the field and all four kids, tried to keep them on a blanket so they could sit there and eat. There used to be more late nights then working, so sometimes that was when they saw their dad. They were in bed by the time he would come home.”

 

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Darren Brown (left), his daughter Ellie Brown (middle), and wife Barbara Brown (right) eat a quick dinner on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017 before his wife and daughter leave for Ellie’s dance classes. 

Phyllis said she hopes to see the farm continue and became emotional about the uncertainty that her grandchildren will want to continue the farm.

“What do you do with the farm if your kids don’t want it? Or need it,” Phyllis said. “I think that’s basically what Jim’s worked for, is so that there’s something for them. We weren’t blessed with a lot of grandsons; we only have four. You can’t pick what the kids are going to do. As long as they’re happy, the ground is a good investment.”

 

 

Shadow in Saginaw

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Last week as part of an assignment for a class I spent the day job shadowing a working photojournalist. I ended up spending the day with Jacob Hamilton, 25, a native of Chicago who currently lives in Saginaw where he recently moved in with his girlfriend Ellen. Jake is an photographer for MLive Media Group and works between both The Saginaw News and The Bay City Times as a multimedia specialist.

When I arrived at The Saginaw News my first impression was surprise at how open and welcoming the office is. In my head I had imagined those depressingly ugly gray cubicles that workers try desperately to cheer up by pinning up photos, figurines, or perhaps a plant or two. The MLive Saginaw office is just one big room, save for the bathroom and the kitchen area. The main area has a few rows of desks with power stations where the employees can work from.

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Employees at The Saginaw News, a media news company owned by MLive Media Group, work out of their office located at 100 S. Michigan Ave. in Saginaw, Michigan on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.

It was interesting to see how the staff communicated. The reporter had a story saved as a draft in what looked like could be a WordPress blog post and then Jake would upload the photos and at the bottom in the tag box he would tag his editor and just look over and verbally tell his editor that it was ready to be edited. No one had to get up from their spot or phone over to a different part of the office or send an email, it was just kind of easy going and fluid.

For the first assignment we went to Tasha’s Loc Shop, where owner Latasha Campbell plans to expand into a new location.

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Latasha Campbell works on a client’s hair at her new location on Dixie Highway in Saginaw, Michigan on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.

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Latasha Campbell re-twists her client Leonardo Shack’s hair to tighten the dreadlocks at her new location on Dixie Highway in Saginaw, Michigan on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.

It was a bit challenging to photograph here because the space was fairly narrow and I was trying to be hyper-aware to not get in any of my mentor’s photos. It was interesting to see his working style. There was also a reporter there and she was asking questions and every once in a while, Jake would ask a question, something I also like to do. Lots of people say photographers should be a fly on the wall but I feel like by asking questions and developing a small relationship there and showing interest in the subject’s life, it allows the subject to feel more at ease with you and the camera, therefore generating better photographs overall. It was reassuring to see a media professional doing something that I just did from instinct.

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Jacob Hamilton, photographs Latasha Campbell, owner of Tasha’s Loc Shop, and Leonardo Shacks while Campbell re-twists Shack’s dreadlocks on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017 at her new location in Saginaw, Michigan. Hamilton, 25, is a multimedia specialist for The Saginaw Times.

From there we went back to The Saginaw New’s office. Something I did not realize prior to this job shadow was how crucial of a program Photo Mechanic is in the industry. According to Jake, it is essentially the standard. I have used the program a sum total of once, so that was a bit worrying to me. I feel comfortable using Adobe Photoshop but watching him edit using Photo Mechanic seemed significantly more efficient and I made a mental note to learn as much as I can about the program. Adobe Photoshop seems really great to use from single photo editing, but from what I see Photo Mechanic makes more sense to utilize in terms of being able to see multiple photos at once and click which you’re going to use and then arrange for use in a photo story or a gallery much easier. You can’t really see arrangement in Photoshop so this seems like a much more useful tool in practice.

After that we drove out to Midland to photograph the Midland Balloon Fest. We got there a bit early so there weren’t a lot of prime photo opportunities yet, but once they got the first balloon up in the air it seemed like very quickly the rest of the balloons went up.

The experience I gained from this assignment in my opinion made it probably the most beneficial assignment out of any I have done thus far during my time at Central Michigan University because of its practicality.  It gave me the opportunity to see firsthand how the newsroom operated and gain a basic idea of expectations, deadlines, and editing procedures.

Prior to shadowing Jake I mentioned that I was unsure about my future as a photojournalist in regards to working at a newspaper. I was considering nearly any alternatives because I felt that there isn’t any job security in working for a newspaper. As someone who has strong family ties, living near my family is essential for me. As someone who also has anxiety, the uncertainty in having a job on a day to day basis I feel would not be good for my overall mental health. I voiced these concerns and Jake answered all of my questions with patience and kindness. Though I know it is unrealistic to find a job in this field I can work for 30 some years in the same place and then retire, it is worrisome to see recent graduates getting let go from jobs every six months or so and moving on. I’m not much of a nomad. Following this experience, I feel better prepared to look at newspaper jobs as a viable option.

Escorts of Michigan

***Names in the article and video have been changed to protect subject’s identities.

State and federal laws prohibit the exchange of sex for money, but in the adult entertainment industry those called escorts walk a fine line between legality and criminal activity.

Regularly included under the umbrella of prostitution, escorts are paid for their companionship and time rather than the sexual acts.

Escorting is not technically illegal as long as the service provided does not include sex. Hence the distinction between charging for time spent together and not the acts.

26-year-old escort Faith uses the umbrella term but makes the distinction of prostitution with what she called survival sex, having sex out of extreme need for money or even food or shelter.

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Faith shows some clothing she wears when she works as an escort at her apartment Sat., April 15, 2017. 

Faith has been working as an escort for two years.

“It’s more like a career,” said Faith. “You’re trying to build a business, a label, a brand based on your personality, the clients you accept, what you do, the way you present yourself, the photos you take, your website. All of these things that end up showing whether or not you’re obviously having survival sex or if this is what you’re doing as a profession.”

Faith works with the full support of her boyfriend Andrew, whom she is in a polyamorous relationship with. She is also a mother.

“I have no qualms about what I do. I’m very proud of it,” said Faith. “It affords me a lot of things for my 5-year-old that I could not if I didn’t do this, there’s no way.”

Though she is happy with her job she no longer speaks with her family.

“My younger sister told our parents what I do,” said Faith. “They told me I was a bad mom who was endangering the welfare of my minor child and that I should let my daughter be with them because I was such a bad mom.”

Faith said she finds the hypocrisy and stigma surrounding her work appalling.

“That I am sitting here 24 hours waiting for you to call and I am ready for you because I want you to come and show me things that I have never seen before. Like no, sorry I have to go grocery shopping, I don’t have time for your ass,” said Faith.

“America is one of the largest consumers of the sex industry and yet, we condemn it so intensely and so profoundly,” said Faith. “I think it was George Carlin that said, ‘Sex is legal. Selling is legal. Why is selling sex illegal?’”

Other than financially, Faith said that her work has helped her personally.

“It’s helped my confidence,” said Faith. “It’s in my ability to communicate my needs and expectations from other people, it’s helped my ability to set, and maintain, appropriate boundaries. It’s helped me immensely, immensely. I don’t regret anything.”

One of the reasons Faith likes working as an escort is making connections with people.

“There is one story that I’ll never forget,” said Faith. “It was a guy who was probably 450 to 500 pounds. Logistically I was like, alright. We’re going to have a good time. Afterward he asked me, ‘Do you know why I was able to finish? Because I usually don’t.’ and I asked why and he said, ‘Because I genuinely felt like you wanted to be here.’”

“It just makes me feel good to make somebody else feel good. I like what I’m doing and I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with it,” said Faith.

Z, 45, and her boyfriend Doug, 53, are swingers and have been together for eight years. A few years ago Z, who normally does accounting and payroll work, was on unemployment.

“It started really as a joke,” said Z.  “I was on unemployment and that was coming to an end. He said to me ‘You know like those checks are going to stop in a month or two?’ and I was like ‘Oh yeah I guess I should look for a job. Maybe I’ll just be an escort.’”

Z said they laughed and walked away after the exchange and Doug asked her two weeks later about it.

“And I said ‘Would you be okay with that?’”, said Z. “And he’s like ‘Well I’m okay with all the rest, we’ve been swinging, why wouldn’t I be okay with that?’”

Z has been working as an escort now for six years and works primarily in eastern Detroit.

“After I started doing this I actually did go back to work for about a year and a half,” said Z. “I was doing this very part time and I was working full time and I really just hated being in a cubicle again.”

Doug is supportive of Z’s job, something she said he wanted to hear all about when she first started.

“The stories are all the same,” said Doug. “At one point I just said, this is repetition. It’s amazing how it doesn’t really vary. The guy comes in, they screw, she gets paid, they talk for a little bit, he leaves. Wow. That’s it. What am I going to get jealous about?”

Doug believes more people should take advantage of the services escorts offer.

“If people were a little bit more open minded when the guy said wow she looks cute and the woman goes, well go fuck her, get it out of your system and then come back to me type of thing, think about all the divorces that could be saved,” said Doug.

Wayne State University student and Detroit resident Eliza Fitzgerald has been working as an escort less than two years. The 22-year-old and has been using the job as a way to pay off school.

It is currently Eliza’s only source of income following her ex-boyfriend, whom she had worked with, revealing her as a sex worker.

 

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Eliza Fitzgerald, an escort based in Detroit, Michigan, before class at Wayne State University on Wed., April 19, 2017. 

“I had to quit that job. He was abusive and I was fearful of him,” said Eliza. “So all of a sudden I didn’t have a job except for sex work and I really had to lean on that. It was really difficult because I still hadn’t gotten the hang of the industry. You’d try to work safely but when the rent’s due you might make some decisions that weren’t as safe.”

Eliza’s rates for the Detroit area start at $350.

“It’s kind of feast or famine. You might make your entire rent in one or two days, and so the other 28 to 29 days of the month it can be really scary,” said Eliza.

Eliza used to use Backpage, a classified advertising website that has since been taken down after coming under fire that their adult services section was being used for prostitution and human trafficking, including minors.

Just before Christmas Eliza arrived at an appointment and discovered the man had brought a gun.

“They didn’t hold the gun to me or anything, but they made it very clear that it was in their pants,” said Eliza. “They were very aggressive. I kept telling them to stop biting me and I couldn’t really raise my voice as much as I wanted to. I just really wanted to kick them out of the room, but I didn’t feel like I could. It was kind of like a coercive situation. And that was kind of a turning point for me when I realized I need to work differently.”

Escorts use a reference system, a vetting service for people they meet for appointments. When a client contacts an escort looking to make an appointment the escort then asks for their references. If the client has used an escort before they provide the names of other escorts they have seen and the escort will then contact the previous escort and make sure they are a legitimate provider and that the client is safe to see. If they are a first-time client each escort has system that varies. The escort may ask for personal contacts, social media information, or meet the client publicly (and at the client’s expense).

“If I get a bad gut feeling about somebody, I don’t see them,” said Z. “It’s not worth it for me to go to jail and to spend thousands of dollars, then to lose $200. I don’t care.”

As a way of protection, escorts also have online websites where they share information about clients they blacklisted to warn other escorts from providing for them or letting them decide if they want to see that person. Clients may be blacklisted for, of course violence, but also for shorting providers on their fees or wasting the escort’s time with missed appointments.

Eliza believes destigmatizing escorts is important and encourages escorts who can be out to “be out.”

“Some of the stigmas people have is that we’re all trafficked,” said Eliza. “There’s also a lot of stigma that we have drugs. Like I have clients sometimes ask me if I have drugs. Not just weed, but like cocaine and things I didn’t even know were drugs.”

Danielle has over started in the adult entertainment industry 20 years ago. She began as a dancer at 24 years old as a way to pay her way through her biotechnology degree at Michigan State University and is now a traveling courtesan.

As a dancer, Danielle said she would have men come to the club and ask her out to dinner.

“I would say yes, but if you want to take me out to dinner on a Friday night you have to pay me whatever I would make that night at the club,” said Danielle. “So it was that kind of transaction. It wasn’t like a previously thought out plan, it was like oh okay, yeah sure take me out but I still have next semester and book to pay for so if you give me $500 we can have dinner.”

Danielle said she liked working in a lab but she loved dancing and traveling and being an escort allowed her to do that.

“If I was contracted to do a project in a lab I would have to be there all the time,” said Danielle. “It’s not like a 9 to 5 job. If your bacteria is going to mutate you have to be there to see it happen. The uncertainty of having work was really scary. Where of course traveling and dancing and being an escort was job security.”

Danielle tours for about two to three days a week, three weeks out of the month.

“If I’m on tour in a certain city I’ll put up ads a month ahead of time,” said Danielle. “I book in advance; I get deposits and then I go. I sometimes schedule my tours intentionally around events that I would enjoy.”

Danielle’s rates normally range from $500 for one hour to $2,500 for eight hours. When she is touring exclusively her charges $3,000 for 12 hours to $15,000 for the week in addition to travel expenses.

“I always think that’s interesting when they’re (the client) like hey do you mind flying with this airline because I have points here,” said Danielle. “Ironically it’s usually Delta.”

 

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Danielle checks in with her travel agent at AAA before going on a tour on Wed., March 22, 2017. 

“A lot of escorts know a lot about travel,” said Danielle. “Be a member of every hotel chain and every travel discount thing you can be a part of because it all works together. AAA discount saves me a ton on hotel and travel. And restaurants, people don’t always know that.”

Danielle is a feminist but feels frustrated that as a sex worker she’s not allowed her own agency.

 

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Danielle walks into an airport in Lansing, Michigan on Wed., March 8, 2017. 

“They want women to look pretty and be smart and have jobs, but they don’t want to acknowledge that I would want to have sex or want to take my clothes off,” said Danielle. “They don’t want to admit that that’s my choice. And on the other side of it, the far left feminist groups are more constantly thinking that I need rescuing and that I’m a victim. I’m not sure what they think I’m a victim of. It makes it very difficult to be a strong independent woman who wants to be a leader when both sides are telling me that I’m a victim and I need rescuing or that I’m completely brainwashed by the patriarchy.”

“Stigma is alive and it is real,” said Faith. “If one person destigmatizes sex work because of this I would be very happy.”

 

 

Coffee Bean Still Life

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For this week’s assignment I decided to photograph some inanimate objects and do a still life. My boyfriend’s love for me is comparable to his love of coffee. A large portion of his coffee consumption he actually roasts at home. So we had these beautiful Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans hanging around that had this amber brown shade coffee3to them and some still had the sheen of oil from being roasted only two days prior.

I really wanted to play around with using light to shoot from underneath which I did in the image to the right. I actually took the glass from my coffee table and and lined the underside with a white sheet to use as a consistent base but doubles as a diffuser and set my speedlite to aim straight up. I also had a second speedlite set up to light up the beans from the top. I really liked the detail it brought out with really defining the shape of the individual beans while also keeping a lot of the shadows on that center cut of the bean.

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I decided to use a mirror as a base for a couple of the other images. I really liked the reflection of the coffee beans in the images and the extra bit of depth it added.

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