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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2009-10-04

Intern Diaries: The Danville Advocate-Messenger
'Being sent into the community and told to find something interesting going on … brought new challenges every day.'

By Doug Strickland, The Danville Advocate-Messenger

Photo by Doug Strickland / The Danville Advocate-Messenger

Photo by Doug Strickland / The Danville Advocate-Messenger

Pilot Wayne VanAllen stands inside his balloon securing a loose line as it inflates in an open field free of power lines during the Great American Hot Air Balloon Race.
This summer, I had the pleasure of interning as a photographer with the Advocate-Messenger in Danville, KY, a daily newspaper with a circulation of about 10,000. I worked under Clay Jackson, a WKU graduate, an award-winning Kentucky photojournalist, and the sole photographer at the paper.

Applying for the internship was pretty informal, mostly because Clay had become familiar with my photography during the spring as I provided the occasional weekly freelance shot. While I did not get the experience of an internship with a large daily with high circulation, working under extreme deadlines and long hours, I had the freedom to pursue my own projects in my downtime while still getting the active experience of photo assignments.

While I certainly saw my share of spot news and other news coverage as the only other photographer besides Clay, my primary job was to be a feature hunter. Page two and three of the paper always had at least one feature photo each, and when space permitted, it was common to run a photo package of two or three on certain days of the week, which meant that I was getting at least two features every day of the week. Clay still shot features when he found them, but with me on staff it left him more time to cover news and his own projects and to leave less photography to the writers at the Advocate.

Working as a feature hunter, as it turned out, was right up my alley. Being sent into the community and told to find something interesting going on (or even to find something mundane and shoot it in a way that draws interest) brought new challenges every day. Danville is a town of about 15,000, and while the Advocate covers Boyle County and several surrounding counties, the towns in these surrounding counties are even smaller than Danville.

Often I would have to spend my mornings making phone calls to find community events to photograph for a feature. The phone book became a valuable resource for finding features, looking for gymnastics clubs or karate studios to visit to get shots. Sometimes all I could do to find feature photos was to pick a location and wander around on foot, or to drive along a well-used highway to a neighboring town in hopes of seeing something worthy of a feature shot. Community links became valuable resources for learning about events to photography for feature photos.

Some of my best shots, however, came from completely random circumstance. A visit to the swimming pool in the early evening became a shot of a lifeguard giving a terrified young boy his first swimming lesson, helping him to float on his back. A trip to a cobbler's store behind Centre College that has always looked so run down and empty that I'd always assumed it was closed became a picture package of a man who was once a professor of economics providing much needed care to the shoes of hundreds of Danville customers.

Photo by Doug Strickland / The Danville Advocate-Messenger

Photo by Doug Strickland / The Danville Advocate-Messenger

Lifeguard and swim teacher Matthew Brewsaugh helps five-year-old Jacob Arnold to float on his back through the deep end of the Danville swimming pool during a lesson on Wednesday night.
The best event that I covered all summer was the Great American Brass Band Festival that takes place in Danville annually on the campus of Centre College. Clay and I both covered the festival, shooting from different locations and at different events, and it was the busiest time at the paper by far. The festival began on a Thursday and ran until Sunday, with us shooting every day at nearly every event. Not quite the experience of a high-circulation daily since the hours of the festival never ran past nine at night, but it's definitely the closest I came.

Crowd shots, musician shots, and parade shots made for most of the photos from the festival, but Clay assigned me the awesome project of shooting the Great American Hot Air Balloon Race, an extension of the Brass Band Festival. Not only did I get to cover the crowd watching the race, but also I was able to find a balloon pilot, Wayne VanAllen, who could take me up with him during the race.

I went out with him, his wife, and two assistants on the long hunt for a takeoff zone, looking for a good open space free of power lines at least a mile from the target drop zone at the airport. I got to see (and photograph!) the process of bringing a hot air balloon into the air, and the silence and solitude in the basket at 1,000 feet up was unbelievable. None of my pictures can fully convey the experience of sitting in a basket that is not even as high as your waistline and looking straight down at a herd of cows running through a Kentucky field below.

We missed the drop zone by about a mile. In fact, we were running so far off course that we had the difficult decision of crash landing into a field surrounded by power lines or running into a forest and ending up at the top of a large grove of oak trees. Wayne opted for the crash landing, and as we plummeted towards the earth and I tried to both brace myself for the impact and protect my camera gear at the same time I realized that I probably have one of the coolest jobs in the world.

Never have I loved being a photojournalist more, even while walking off the pain of smashing my knees into a propane tank as we hit the ground and rolling out of the basket as we tipped over, and never have I been more certain that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.


(Doug Strickland is a student at Centre College. His work can be view at his SportsShooter.com member page: http://www.sportsshooter.com/kayan.)

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