Year Twenty-Two

I was talking to one of my mentors this past week about my recent struggles. He listened. Then he reminded me of what we do as storytellers - we seek to document and share stories. But what makes a good story?

In its most basic form, a good story includes a person who has a goal and overcomes struggle to achieve that goal. During the journey, there is change that comes from overcoming said struggle.

As Donald Miller says, “somehow we realize that great stories are told in conflict, but we are unwilling to embrace the potential greatness of the story we actually live in.

Though we strive for a perfect life, not only is that something that is unachievable, but it’s also something that would cause us to plateau, to stop growing.

Year 22 was probably the most challenging year thus far. I experienced the highest of highs in graduating from Syracuse University and returning home for a bit to spend time with my family.

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I also experienced real lows in moving to another state by myself, trying to acclimate to a new space, starting all over, and dealing with the physical and mental effects that this stress caused.

Through this, Year 22 taught me the importance of allowing myself to seek help when I realize that I cannot do everything all by myself. I’m so thankful for my supportive family and all that they’ve done and continue to do to ensure I continue on my path. It taught me struggle and it has been slowly showing me the growth that stems from it.

Year 22 made me realize the importance of truly understanding my passion. This has allowed me to expand the amount of things I can do with it - learning to use different mediums, mentoring, and further enjoying what I do.

Year 22 reaffirmed the golden rule. The rule that tells us to treat others as we would wish to be treated. The rule that my mom has told me to live by since I can remember. When others don’t abide by it, remind them of the rule. I’ve come to understand that not everyone is going to like me, but they have to respect me.

Year 22 reinforced the idea that it truly takes a village to achieve success. I’m so grateful for everyone that has supported me in my endeavors during the past year.

Year 22 taught me that I define what success is for me. Everyone’s path is different. Coming to terms with this has helped me stay focused on the path I’m blazing. I know that if I constantly work hard, results will surely follow.

Year 22 showed me that I can set goals and then follow through by doing everything in my power to meet my own expectations. This year, I competed for one of two TEDxUNC student spots, and though I ultimately wasn’t selected, I finally put together a presentation that I was proud of and that I feel can inspire others. I’ll just think of it as practice for next year.

Year 22 helped me realize it is important to live in the present, in the moment. Trying to take it all in because life moves so fast. Acknowledging small victories is important.

Year 22 highlighted the importance of friendship – especially when one is going through challenging times.

I appreciate you, Jackie, for always being just one phone call away. For always listening. And for always giving me the best possible advice. See you soon.

I appreciate you, Manny, for being the best brother I never had. I know that you’re always there for whatever I need and that means a lot. I also want to thank you and Geo for taking time out of your day and meeting up to celebrate my birthday.

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Year 22 confirmed my love for mentorship. Over the past couple of months, I’ve used several opportunities to talk to students about the importance of what we do and share all that I’ve learned about visual storytelling.

Facilitating a class in video journalism at  Randolph Community College . Thank you to Khadejeh Nikouyeh and Jay Capers for the opportunity.

Facilitating a class in video journalism at Randolph Community College. Thank you to Khadejeh Nikouyeh and Jay Capers for the opportunity.

Year 22 taught me the importance of understanding emotions, learning how to control them, and working toward growing my emotional intelligence. Because “intelligence can come to nothing if emotions hold sway.”

Year 22 proved to me that Year 23 will be what I make of it.

Thinking Like a Visual Storyteller: Connecting

Yesterday I shared a story that I worked on with the Southern Durham Football team. It was an in-depth look into their season. For four months, the team allowed me to be present at every moment. They trusted me - for which I will forever be grateful.

Southern Spartans head coach Darius Robinson celebrates with his players after winning the last game of the season against Millbrook High School, 21-14. On the first day that I met Head Coach Robinson, he took me to the team locker room and introduced me to his players: “this is Bryan, he will be photographing our season. He is now part of the family.”

Southern Spartans head coach Darius Robinson celebrates with his players after winning the last game of the season against Millbrook High School, 21-14. On the first day that I met Head Coach Robinson, he took me to the team locker room and introduced me to his players: “this is Bryan, he will be photographing our season. He is now part of the family.”

How did this come about? As visual storytellers, how do we make this connection, gain this trust, and tell the story to the best of our abilities?

Though it varies by story, the one common factor is being human.

Let me explain.

My favorite quote throughout my time as a photojournalism student at Syracuse University says:

“We tell stories of people - not ‘subjects.’ Honor their humanity. Our language sets the tone.”

I think it’s very important to always keep this in mind because this is the level at which we connect with those whom we are fortunate to photograph. It is not a photographer-subject relationship but a human one. We gain trust by being genuine, listening, being present, and by truly caring about the story.

Telling these stories is a collaborative process. Explaining this is a good way of building these relationships. Don’t take control of a story that isn’t yours. You’re simply helping share this narrative with your storytelling ability. Ask the people you are photographing “what do you think your story is?” and be prepared for the answer. Chances are it might not be what you thought it was - it’s much more meaningful.

Be respectful and feel situations out. Go with your gut instinct. Sometimes the best move is to put your camera down and be present. This is still hard one for me too, because I don’t want to miss a frame. But when the situation calls for you to be present and you are, this goes along way in the trust you are building. Being present and asking questions is good way of making images - even though you are not pressing the shutter button - because you will be constantly learning about the person and the different layers to their story.

Once the story is complete, maintain that relationship. Whether that’s through social media, mail, text messages, etc. These are human beings that entrusted you, allowed you into their lives, and shared with you. Don’t take this for granted. Honor those relationships.

Even if you’re not a visual storyteller, I would challenge you to start thinking about the relationships you create and how you honor them. As I mentioned earlier in this post, we connect not as subjects-photographers but as humans. Meet new people, ask questions, listen, and most importantly, be genuine and care.

Care.

Listen.

Be Genuine.

Be Present.

Be Respectful.

Honor the Relationship.

The Opportunity

In August 2018, the Southern Durham Spartans welcomed me to photograph their brotherhood. I documented their season: from the joyful moments to the lowest points where they had to regroup and be ready for the next challenge. During my time with this team, these young men taught me about resiliency. They were always up for the challenge, they never gave up on each other, and they always found a way to bounce back when games didn’t go their way.

Though the season didn’t end how they would’ve liked, they made sure to take advantage of all of the opportunities being part of this team offered.

Thank you to all the players and coaches for allowing me to be a part of the journey.

No Te Rindas

Last week in my documentary video storytelling class, we were assigned an “interpretation” assignment in which we could choose any poem and put together a narrative to represent it.

I wanted to make the assignment meaningful. I had never made an interpretation piece where I had to think about every shot in the video beforehand and the meaning it would contribute.

This project became significantly more special when my mom - who was visiting - agreed to be a part of it, reading one of the poems that she constantly reminds me of when I’m too stressed and not feeling too well.

No Te Rindas translates to “Don’t Give Up,” and it’s a poem by Mario Benedetti that reminds us to keep pushing forward, to keep going despite the many hardships we may face. Why?

“Because every day is a new beginning,

Because this is the hour and the best moment.

Because you are not alone, because I love you.”

My mom and I filmed for three days and edited it all together on the last day. It was awesome to give her insight as to what I did - from the filming, to the editing, to the countless hours spent looking for royalty free music that would perfectly fit the video. It was like ‘Bring Your Parents to Work’ weekend (which actually exists).

We were both happy with the end result, but more importantly, with the time we spent together creating something meaningful for the both of us.

When she got on the plane, she sent me a text that read “thank you for allowing me to be a part of your projects. I really enjoyed it. I love you.” Love you too, mamá. This is a video and an experience that we will both forever cherish.

Life in Flux

Two weekends ago, I was fortunate to attend the Eddie Adams Workshop and it was an incredible experience. From the speakers to the edit sessions to the portfolio reviews to the important conversations, I learned something every step of the way. I am also extremely fortunate to have been part of Team Tie Dye. Producer Eric Thayer found us all great stories, Angus Oborn was the best tech and provided lots of comic relief, and Editor Tim Rasmussen and team leader Preston Gannoway put our work together beautifully and helped us grow as visual storytellers. Huge shoutout to my peers on team Tie Dye who are all awesome human beings and were extremely supportive throughout the entire weekend!

Our team’s theme was ‘life in flux’ and we were instructed to photograph our stories with this idea in mind. Flux can be defined as continuous change, passage, or movement. Recently, my life has been in a state of ‘hyperflux’ and though it has been challenging, it has also been very rewarding. I continue to look for that continuous change because in that, there is a story, a journey, and growth.

I also enjoy slowing down and taking it all in: living in the moment and enjoying the present. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been fortunate to meet some awesome people that have allowed me to document their story. Here’s what I’ve been working on during the months of September and October:


Mid-South Fencers’ Club in Durham, NC

Fencing Coach Jennifer Oldham established the Mid-South Fencer’s Club in Durham, NC in 2007 with the idea of building a community out of a traditionally individual sport. She’s one of five coaches in North Carolina to achieve the ‘Maitre d’Armes’ (Master of Weapons) title. Her dedication to the sport and her students has helped the club rise to one of the best fencing clubs in the nation.


Before/After - Hurricane Florence

Before and After — A couple of days before Hurricane Florence made landfall, I was able to photograph the Haw River near Chapel Hill. After the hurricane passed, I went back to see the effects of the hurricane on the massive river that runs 110 miles through North Carolina. Several locals who usually use the river to fish and kayak commented that it's the fastest they had ever seen the river moving. They were also astonished at how much the water level rose but thankful that there was no major flooding.


COPA

Cuban chef Roberto Copa Matos at his farm in Hillsborough, NC.

Cuban chef Roberto Copa Matos at his farm in Hillsborough, NC.

Being Cuban-American, I always try to find the Cuban community wherever it is that I am at. After some searching, I found out about Cuban chef and farmer Roberto Copa Matos.

Roberto studied biochemistry at the University of Havana but emigrated from the island in 2002. His concept is simple: from soil-to-table. He owns the nation's only soil-to-table Cuban restaurant and he takes a lot of pride in that. 'It's about cultivating relationships from soil to table. From the moment we harvest our food to the moment where we serve the guest, we are building relationships along the way," says Matos. His goal is to grow the farm to the point where almost all of the food products he uses at his restaurant come from his farm.


Life in Flux Through Different Levels of Football

Interpreting ‘life in flux’ through different levels of football in Liberty, NY. This was completed during the Eddie Adams Workshop.

And portraits from last week’s high school football game in Liberty, NY:

Year Five

This semester, I started the visual communications master's program at UNC-Chapel Hill. It's been a busy couple of weeks that included moving from Miami, setting up my new place, and getting to know the area... And what better way to get to know the area than by picking up a camera, going to events, talking to people and photographing? Here are some of my favorite frames from the past two weeks:

Hux Family Farm

After a week of getting settled in and preparing for this upcoming semester, I was able to got outside and explore a bit. After some research, I found out about @HuxFamilyFarm and their horsemanship clinics that are meant to help participants relax, have fun, and learn new skills. It was awesome to be at this event and learn more about these amazing animals while also being able to photograph them. Huge shoutout to horses Dapple and Gryffindor as well as Hux Family Farm for allowing me into this space.


The Toppling of Silent Sam

It was an interesting ending to my first day at UNC. Students took matters into their own hands after years of trying to remove the Silent Sam confederate statue from their campus. The controversial statue was toppled over this afternoon by a group of about 250 protesters. Police were quick to cordon-off the statue and cover it while they awaited for removal workers to arrive. The workers spent about an hour trying to figure out how they were going to load it onto the truck. Once they were able to load, they packed up Silent Sam and drove off. It was interesting to see the various reactions throughout the night as well as the various students that stayed up until 1:30AM to witness that night's events.


Race Day with Classic Gear Jammers' Jeff Smith

"If you start messing with cars, you'll probably end up racing," said Jeff Smith as he started dialing his car for the first race of the day. Smith, a 71-year-old retired mechanic, has been drag racing with Classic Gear Jammers since 1993 and he still has a need for speed. This past June, he beat out 105 cars to win the 2018 Clemmons Concrete Stick Shift Nationals and $5,000. He races with a 1963 Corvette that he found at a junk yard. It was in such bad shape, that he got it for free. He spent about a year working on it, including building the motor from scratch, and has been racing with it for the past three years... Thank you to Classic Gear Jammers, JR Dunbar, and Jeff Smith for letting me hang out yesterday. It was a great time!


Southern Durham Football

I'm grateful to have been welcomed to the Southern Durham football team! I'll be documenting their season for the next few months. Stay tuned...

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Visiting the Nation's Capital

This weekend, I traveled to Washington, DC, for College Photographer of the Year (CPOY)/Photos of the Year (POY) Weekend. It was a great time where I caught up with old friends, made new ones, and got to explore a little of DC. Here are some frames I took while walking around:

"Spring Break" 2018

This spring break did not have much "spring" or "break" in it but it was definitely a productive one. I traveled to North Carolina to find an apartment with the help of my mom (and had it not been for her, I would still not have a place for next year) and spent the rest of the time in Syracuse cheering on the Orange as they advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament (woot, woot).

I also spent the week testing out the FujiFilm X-Pro2. I wasn't sure of how I was going to like it considering I am a Nikon and Sony user but it's an awesome camera. Here are some quick thoughts followed by the photos I made with it this past week:

  • First, I really enjoyed using the various color profiles that are built in. I also appreciated the fact that you can see what the frame you are composing looks like with said profile through the viewfinder - something you can't do with a DSLR.
  • The build quality is great! It is a weather-sealed body and I was using it with the weather-sealed 23mm lens (35mm equivalent because it is a crop sensor camera) so I wasn't hesitating when taking it out in the heavy snow or light rain.
  • Most importantly, it made me want to just photograph. In my opinion, it's an ergonomic camera and made me want to take it everywhere. It was a lot of fun using it.

The Generation of Change

Today, thousands of high school students are participating in the national walkout to demand action on gun violence. 

My alma mater, Hialeah Gardens High School, showed their solidarity by creating a student group called "Generation Change" that planned several meaningful events to commemorate the 17 victims and support the remaining Parkland students at Stoneman Douglas High.

I was made aware of this initiative by my english teacher at HGHS and would really appreciate if you took the time to read more about what these amazing students did and how you can support.

Photo Credits: Michael Benitez and Megan Mederos

In their words:

"In response to the national walkout on February 21st, 2018, we built our movement on the ideology of being human doings rather than human beings. The group Generation Change was formed by passionate students that wanted to create and implement a viable plan to ensure a safer school environment for us and other local, state and national schools.

With the help and support from the administration and educators at Hialeah Gardens High School, this show of solidarity is intended to commemorate the 17 victims and support the remaining Parkland students at Stoneman Douglas High.

To prove that we are #FloridaStrong, we made and distributed orange ribbons for our students and staff to wear to raise awareness for Florida’s call to develop and implement strong gun control legislations.

1,500 members of our school community formed the number 17 as a tribute to those lost and the number of Acts that we proposed to effect positive change, commencing with a 17- second moment of silence in honor of the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting.

The members of Generation Change shared the 17 Acts that the students and school staff have pledged to implement in our school to ensure the safety and well-being of every member in our school community.

Generation Change has launched a website titled 17Acts.com to demonstrate this group’s goals and call for change. In the website, students can pledge to participate and carry out this movement not only in the short term, but also for the long run.

Generation Change has also established social media accounts to show the progress of this movement and publicly spread this notion of Florida’s students taking the lead nationally, documenting our endeavor to inspire others to commit to the 17 Acts and modify them to meet other schools’ needs.

Instagram and Twitter: @17Acts using #17Acts"

 

Working Overtime

Now that the site is new and improved, I am excited to start sharing some of my daily work through the blog. 

First up, some of my favorite images from this past weekend from the men's Syracuse lacrosse game against Army. Shot #OnAssingment for Syracuse.Com

The Orangemen won the game in overtime, 11-10, after overcoming a 6-1 halftime deficit.

“Play Ball!”

It’s finally baseball season. America’s Pastime is back in full swing and I could not be more excited to finally start photographing baseball.

As the end-of-semester stress starts to build up, I hope the ballpark will serve as my place of peace while I try to make some cool frames. 

This past weekend I photographed all three games between the Syracuse Chiefs and the Rochester Red Wings. Here are some of my favorite photos:

Living the (American) Dream

I’m back to the ‘Cuse to finish my junior year and I’m excited for another semester of a lot of hard work and photographing. I’ve learned to expect the unexpected and I’m eager to see what these next few months bring.

That being said, I had an eventful “break” for which I am very thankful. I did get rest and a lot of quality family time but I also got to pick up my camera and shot a couple of assignments for The Miami Herald as I prepare to intern there this summer. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity and everything they have already allowed me to do.

I’d like to share with y’all some of my favorite images from my time in Miami during winter break:

First, I was able to shadow Miami Herald photojournalist for a day. We covered a press conference right before New Years and you can find that story here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article123543304.html

I was also able to go to his studio and make this portrait:

Miami Herald photojournalist Carl Juste in his studio in Little Haiti, Miami, Florida.

That same weekend, I attended and photographed my first NFL alongside Miami Herald photojournalists Charles Trainor Jr. and Al Diaz. Here's my take:

and lastly, I photographed the professional boxing event at Hialeah Casino Park that feature many bouts including the main event of Cuban boxer Erislandy "The American Dream" Lara vs Yuri Foreman:

Grit

Often times in school we're told not to quote Wikipedia, but look at this amazing definition it has for the word "grit:"

"Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual's passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective."

I still don't know where this series is going, but I think I've found a preliminary name for it. Enjoy part two of this running set of images!

Friday Night Lights

About four years ago, I made my first frame with my first DSLR camera. The subject? Football. 

Four years and a few hundred thousand frames later, I'm on assignment shooting high school football once again. This time, however, with a lot more experience and a different perspective.

From the recent shoot, I selected some of my favorite frames. Really looking forward into turning these into a series.

 

 

3000 Miles to a Cure

As many of you may already know, I am currently on the road going from California to Maryland in 12 days. The whole trip is 3,000 miles and the most important part is that it's for an amazing cause. I'm photographing one of the toughest men I know, Marshall Reeves, as he cycles for 3000 Miles to a Cure.

This organization raises money for brain cancer research and every year they have at least one cyclist that takes on the "World's Toughest Race," Race Across America, in hopes of raising as much money as possible for the cause.

We are currently at about the halfway point of the race and really need help with the fundraising. This year we have two racers and each have a $20,000 goal. 

I'd really appreciate if you would donate at least towards Marshall's goal. Every penny counts, every penny goes to brain cancer research. You can DONATE here: https://www.3000milestoacure.com/event/raam-2016-marshall-reeves/

Furthermore, if you could like and share this post that would also be of tremendous help. The more people this reaches, the more money we can raise.

Here are my selects to this point. Enjoy!

Very Busy, Very Happy

This past weekend I was able to photograph three different events in two days. Though it was tiring and I spent much of my weekend editing, I could not be happier. I am grateful that I get to do what I love everyday...

Check out some of my favorite shots from this past weekend:

Back at it...!

For a while now, I've been wanting to update my blog with some of the work I've been doing. These are photos that I am doing for assignments or personal projects that I would like to constantly share. 

I'll start by posting the game I covered at Madison Square Garden that featured the Syracuse Orange vs St. John's.

You can find the whole shoot at The Newshouse: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenewshouse/albums/72157662210831402

Here are some of my favorite takes from the shoot: