memoRANDOM my blog

May 2022. No one wants or plans to be a refugee. People are simply living their lives when suddenly war or persecution happens and they are fleeing to save their lives. Some could spend years to decades in a refugee camp. If being traumatized by violence, loss of family members and being targeted for death isn’t enough, being dropped in the middle of America and having to start over can traumatize further. Kansas City resettles about 500 refugees a year; in fact, Somali is the third-most spoken language in the city.

Eight refugees from around the world shared their stories of survival, resilience, success and giving back.

Hear their voices in the video.

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May 2022. When you’re in, you’re all in. Story slugged “Ruby Red,” as in conservative red, is about how a formerly purple county just northwest of St. Louis has gone from a bellwether county to ruby red.

Jan. 28, 2022. What can I say? This was a wee bit stressful to shoot because of all the lead changes late in the game and into OT, but WOW. So lucky to have witness it up close.

Fall 2021. I have not been adding to memoRANDOM for a while. Since the last one, the Royals have been to two World Series and the Chiefs have been to two Super Bowls. A lot happened in between, like the 2016 election and result, coronavirus, mass protests against systemic racism and police brutality after the police killing of George Floyd, the Great Resignation, the Capitol insurrection, the 2020 election, protests against Asian hate, vaccines, more coronavirus/delta and a lot more.

The Star has started a ‘Reimagined Print’ effort.
More in-depth story coverage and more photo display:

(Morning Sports Edition is online only.)

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The Star collaborated with The Wichita Eagle for a story on wind power in Kansas and Missouri. I shot two different front covers.

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May 12, 2014: Orrick, Missouri tornado Saturday, May 10.

Coverage from the day after the tornado that destroyed several buildings, including the roof of the high school, causing graduation to be held at another school.  The town of 800 is about 35 miles northeast (mostly east) of Kansas City.


The high school.







May 12, 2014:  To screen or not to screen.

For a possible Ink Magazine cover on singer/songwriter Kristen Paludan.  Kristen was obviously cool; she let me try different things and was a great subject.  I got stuck my mind that I wanted to use these shiny chiffon-y cloths from the pathetic prop closet somehow but while cream-colored, they were too reflective, therefore too abruptly contrasty with the other more muted/darker colors.  With less light on them, they became weird drab things with ugly seams.  Note to self: non-reflective lacy material might do the trick – oh, but that would mean some prior planning!

So when she got there, I hadn’t found the set up yet.  I just shot a few straightforward shots, with a yellow gel on the hair and a gridded soft box on the front – nothing fancy.  Ok, improvise.  Found the screen and hung it up, used shallow depth of field and tried a bunch of stuff, troubleshooting along the way.  The chiffon made a subtle, softer appearance in the background after all.  Kristen said the screen was a vent cover you can get from Home Depot.  Hopefully turned out to be more interesting than just the usual 2-light set-up…

To screen:




Not to screen:


A cool one that was out of focus:


April 25, 2014:  The man does divine work.

Star Magazine story on stained glass artist Russell Joy.  Kind and extremely skilled with a twinkle in his eye, Joy took us on a tour of his beautifully detailed and creative works in four churches around the area.  I spent a bit of time trying to light two large works in place above the altar, but they did not make it into print.  I used off-camera strobes on remotes and pointed them such that they provide some highlights without detracting from the glass.

Risen Savior Lutheran Church in Basehor, Kansas.


The “buff Jesus” at Spirit of Hope MCC in Kansas City, Missouri.  Ok, this one is a little dark and very vertical for print, but you can still dream. This altar was cluttered with music stands, instruments, microphones and there are two large white projection screens on the wall on either side of the silver emblem, making it necessary (in my opinion) to darken the surrounding visual distractions.


Russell Joy.  This is not a posed portrait but a moment captured while he was looking at the work he hadn’t seen in a while.  He said once gets installed, he often doesn’t see it again – unless he makes a special trip.


His work appears to me to be so vivid and lifelike.


To see what the Risen Savior shots would look like without lighting, the first shot is exposed for the room so the stained glass is blown out.  The second shot is exposed for the window, so the altar goes dark.  For comparison with first image in the series.  The blue halo above the altar was a volunteer.

wStainedGlass_MA_04032014_JAT_009 wStainedGlass_MA_04032014_JAT_006

March 21, 2014:  Lorde and the efficient haters.

Lorde performed a sold out show at the Midland Theatre tonight.  When tickets went on sale, they sold out in minutes.  So shooting the concert – first three songs anyway – pretty cool.

Then circus weirdness.  The Westboro Baptist Church were scheduled to demonstrate and we needed shots of them there.  The police were there, dressed up concert-goers were there, a guy dancing in some kind of retro clothing was there, a film crew was there, tv news was there and a caped runner with Jesus sewn onto his satiny blue and red outfit was running round and round the block.  Lots of young people taking cell phone photos and drivers shouting angrily at the Phelps people.  Their leader, Fred Phelps, died Wednesday.  I learned from a radio report today that Phelps had been a civil rights crusader in his early law career.  Quoi?!  Anyway, counter-protesters were also there; one banner read, “SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS.” The other, “Live your life and be awesome.”

At roughly 7:55 p.m., the Phelps people all began to lower their signs and quietly moved from the curb toward each other.  I wondered, “What’s going on?” A nice young woman who couldn’t get a ticket to the show said that according to their website, the Westboro people were scheduled to demonstrate between 7:15 and 8:00 p.m.  By 8:00 there was no sign of them.  Right on schedule.

Lorde performed her sold out show at the Midland Theatre Friday, Mar. 21, 2014. Lorde performed her sold out show at the Midland Theatre Friday, Mar. 21, 2014. Lorde performed her sold out show at the Midland Theatre Friday, Mar. 21, 2014.

I left out the most offensive signs, the kinds we can’t really publish and the kinds I don’t want on my site …



November 7, 2013:  A contrast of windows.

Nelson Hopkins is serving a 20-year sentence for a pizza restaurant robbery, his third offense.  Before being incarcerated here, Hopkins had become a model ex-prisoner, turning his life around and trying to inspire others to do the same.  Then tragedy struck.  His son was shot and killed.  Hopkins and his son Nelson Jr. had promised to be the best man at each other’s wedding.  When Hopkins later remarried, he looked over and saw that Nelson Jr. was not there.  Hopkins began to drink on his wedding night.  PTSD from serving in the Gulf War, medications and alcohol caused him to spiral.  He said he does not remember the robbery, but if witnesses said he did it, he can’t argue.  He issued a public apology.  He holds a booklet of his son’s poems …

Because the main visitation room was being used by the offender dog handling class, we were confined to a small interview room at Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, Mo.  I used a gridded Dynalight with a cream-colored cheesecloth over it to soften the shadows.  A second Nikon strobe on a tripod in the back corner for a second light.  The reflection was a volunteer.  So as not to over-direct the portrait, I asked Hopkins to just convey how he feels or the right mood or tone for his story.

For an Ink at Home piece of Winefred Wright, a museum designer.  When I arrived she was getting ready.  The space and light looked great, but I have doubts it would run because the point is to show the design of peoples’ living spaces and in this, the room is dark.


October 31, 2013:  The two-hour drive to Columbia to shoot five Missouri basketball players was gray, but mostly dry.  Got there in plenty of time to grab a quick bite, haul gear into the arena and set up the lights, but then I proceeded to chew up a lot of time sitting around due to a miscommunication (our side).  You know, where you sit around for a half hour not able to reach your contact, each waiting for the other in a different place. …  I should have looked up the players beforehand.  Jabari Brown is from Oakland, Calif., my last city before going on this photojournalism walkabout.  The players were awesome and wanted to make sure we got the best shot whenever I asked them to try something … like this:

From left, Jabari Brown, Earnest (E.J.) Ross, Jordan (J.C.) Clarkson.  Dragged the shutter to get motion blur and asked them to move *somehow*.  E.J. stood still and Jabari and J.C. had random moves for a while until, watching them through the lens, I knew this one was going to be the one.  They were really happy with how it looked, too.  They asked another player to make a video of me working.  But because what I did next was kind of boring, I said we could make it look like the shoot by having them do the moves again and I could trigger the lights.  So Keanau Post shot cell phone video while they moved around and I popped the pocket wizards.  Pretty cool guys! ….. The return drive back was dark, stormy and full of bad drivers, but no matter.

From earlier this month:  Sister Corita Bussanmas, along with Sister Berta Sailer, have been serving poor children and families with love and without judgment for nearly 45 years at Operation Breakthrough.  Sister Corita retired October 17.  I got to spend several days with them a few years ago – shooting photos of them at work, at home, with the children they’ve adopted.  Their lives were hectic; a lot of curve balls were thrown their way.  But it was impossible not to see and admire their “one minute at a time” approach and their absolute love of children.  Sister Corita moves through the halls in a motorized chair now.


October 26, 2013:  Some recent portraits.

Fashionista Samantha Levi of Kansas City and her son 2-year-old son, August.  For an INK magazine Closet Raid.

Bret Miller of Prairie Village is a breast cancer survivor who, along with his parents, are active in raising awareness of breast cancer in men.  Miller’s tattoo has his diagnosis and all-clear date.  For a 913 cover.

Stowers Institute scientists Peter and Diana Baumann are committed to living as sustainably as possible.  At their new Kearney farm, they grow much of their own produce, have chickens and ducks and are planning to raise rabbits and build a greenhouse for year-round fresh vegetables.  For a Star Magazine cover.

August 6, 2013:  Accidental tourist attraction.

Ron Lessman created Truckhenge on his northeast Topeka farm in response to the county’s demand that he “pick up his trucks” so in the event of a flood, they won’t drift down to Lawrence and kill people.  Since then, he has created Boathenge and Beer Bottle City.  Ron and Linda Lessman live in a large quonset hut they built and receive, they say, at least 2,000 visitors per year.  For a Star Magazine story Aug. 11.


The sign reads “zoned to speak your mind.”


Boathenge and Beer Bottle City detail.



In the news, President Obama made a speech about the economy and reviving the middle class and touted a Missouri educational program from the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg July 24.  It started an hour late and the gym was sweltering.  Our pool pass got me in the buffer, between the crowd and the stage.  I also shot and edited video with help from Dave Helling, who turned the camera on and off because I wasn’t anywhere near it when the event started.  When it was time to edit photos, annoyance turned to frustration turned to horror when my computer wouldn’t fully boot up.  Three tries and about 20 minutes later, with great relief, it started.  AP shooter Charlie Riedel said of our Mac computers running Windows, “It’s like getting new running shoes with a ball and chain attached.”  Right-o.




July 23, 2013: Limited to 340 racers, Missouri 340 River Race begins at Kaw Point Park, Kansas and ends up at St. Charles, Missouri, 340 miles later.  The Kansas and Missouri Rivers meet at Kaw Point, which is just west of Kansas City, Missouri.  The Lewis and Clark Expedition camped at Kaw Point for three days in 1804.  Competitors in the individual race leave the park at 7 a.m., followed by tandem racers.

Racers in the individual event of the Missouri 340 River Race to St. Charles leave from Kaw Point in Kansas City, Kan.,  July 23, 2013 and paddle toward Kansas City, Missouri.  The Lewis and Clark expedition camped for three days at Kaw Point, where the Kansas and Missouri Rivers converge.

July 12, 2013: From the youngest country, South Sudanese children now living in the Kansas City area have formed a choir.  At a gala benefiting Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center, this young soloist belted it out. (shot July 11)

July 10, 2013:  Soon to become a thing of the past – film at the movies.

The Mid-Way Drive-In in Osawatomie, Kansas is trying to keep their much-loved small-town drive-in alive by raising funds to go digital. At least $75,000.  Paul and Ann Dimoush are a truly lovely couple who didn’t just want to sit around in retirement. When I shot the photo, “Fast and Furious 6” was playing.  Some of the shots with a closeup with Vin Diesel or The Rock on screen were a funny juxtaposition.  Of course we all laughed out loud when we had to break due to an *ahem* bedroom scene played behind them! (shot July 3).

July 1, 2013:  The story – beer is made mostly of water, so what about it? The photo illustration for Ink Magazine has fun with that. My role was to execute the concept using a swimmer – someone who can control movements under water – rather than a model. Time was limited, so rather than try to find the housing (leak paranoia) and beg, borrow or steal underwater lights, I went with the time-tested and simple aquarium method. The same tank I bought to shoot hanging off the side of a boat at Lake of the Ozarks years ago, in fact. Two on-camera strobes on Pocket Wizards double-Ziploc freezer bagged (thanks for idea, Keith Myers). Two assistants (thanks Mary Schulte and Tasha F-J) to point said strobes and two bricks to help make it easier to press the tank into the water (thanks again you two). Black duct tape (gaffer tape recommended) around the lens hood to the tank wall to reduce glare (thanks for tip, John Sleezer). And when the sun got too bright to see the camera screen in live view, duct tape also used to attach an umbrella to the tank (see fig. 3). The main light with 1/8 tungsten gel over it to get the skin tone warmer, the fill light lower power and/or farther from subject, no gel. Thanks to Tasha’s friends for use of the pool and thanks to Ashton for being such a great subject! (shot June 19)

June 14, 2013: Never pass up the chance to get an early start on a yard sale.  Friday morning, the mannequin sold quick.  I was doing an errand when the right yard sale browser showed up…


May 28, 2013: No, photojournalists do not usually photograph stories on skinny dipping using a model!  Or maybe, yes, they do.


May 3 2013: Snow feature offering from May 2. Snow last seen in May in Kansas City in 1907! This one clearly blew in from the northwest. The statue honors men who served in the War with Spain, the Philippines Insurrection and the China Relief Expedition, 1898-1907, fyi.

Snow in May? Last seen in 1907.