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Best of 2020

2020 was a rollercoaster. It tested us. Photojournalists improvised like never before. While I’m glad it’s almost over, I know I’ve grown as a visual storyteller by working through it.

It’s hard to call anything the “best” this year. The whole year has been a struggle and grind. But through it all, I managed to make a handful of images I’m proud of.

I thought about keeping this post short. Only the absolute best of the best. But so much happened of such significance, I decided it was appropriate to include more.

Also, as I’ve moved into my new role as an editor, this will likely be my last full year of making images.

So in chronological order, here’s a glimpse of what 2020 looked like through my lens.

Unfortunately the year started with tragedy.

Nhung Nguyen (left) looks over at her husband, Hai Nguyen, as he buries his face in his hands Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, at their home in Memphis. Their daughter, Sabrina Nguyen, was stabbed to death on Jan. 2. She was 18.

I had to include my first professional wrestling match. That was an experience.

Scenes from the tag-team match between Kenny Omega, and Adam Page vs. Private Party on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, during All Elite Wrestling Dynamite at Landers Center in Southaven.
Aubrey Murphy leans down to kiss her late daughter, Ashlynn Luckett, on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, during a funeral service for Lequan Boyd and Ashlynn Luckett at LaGoshen Missionary Baptist Church in Moscow.

Celine Dion was the last concert I photographed before the world shut down.

Celine Dion performs Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, during her Courage World Tour at FedExForum in Memphis.
Jean-Paul Gandy demonstrates how to peel and eat crawfish Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, at Crossroads Seafood in Hernando.

I really lucked out for my first NBA season. Ja Morant was an absolute delight to photograph in action.

In early March, I was sent to Nashville to help with their coverage needs after the city was hit by a tornado. Two of the Tennessean’s photographers had their homes destroyed in the storm.

Church musician Brian Doss plays the keyboard Sunday, March 8, 2020, before an outdoor service at Mount Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville. The church was severely damaged in the March 3 tornado.
Ka’Mya James, 5, holds hands with her great grandmother, Faye Bridgeforth, and great aunt, Shantee Brownlow, on Sunday, March 8, 2020, during an outdoor service at Mount Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville. The church was severely damaged in the March 3 tornado.

Some of the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Tennessee were announced while I was in Nashville, and the first cases in Shelby County were announced as I returned to Memphis.

As things began to shut down, it became a challenge to find things going on. The great feature and enterprise hunt of 2020 began.

Vincent Doggett (from left), 17, T-Andre Hardin, 17, and Jaelin Gray, 24, watch as A.J. Mayes, 17, fires off a jump shot Tuesday, March 17, 2020, while playing basketball at Tom Lee Park in downtown Memphis. Doggett, Hardin and Mayes are on spring break from Mitchell High School and met Gray who was playing basketball during his lunch break at work.
Diondra Lewis (right), of Cordova, and Annika Adams, of Memphis, practice social distancing as they work out on the battle ropes Wednesday, March 18, 2020, at Shabazz Fitness in Cordova. Class instructor Odie Tolbert of Cardi-O FiTness made sure all of his clients kept a minimum of six feet of separation during their workout.

One story I came across was at a local stable. They were trying to safely stay open, but preparing to continue caring for their animals in the event of a shutdown.

As houses of worship began going entirely virtual, I found a man who welcomed me into his home as he worshiped at his dining room table.

I never got great access to COVID-19 testing. This photo of the first drive-through testing site in Memphis was taken with a 400mm plus a 1.4x teleconverter, then heavily cropped.

A car goes through the COVID-19 drive-through testing facility Monday, March 23, 2020, at the Memphis fairgrounds.

I started looking for ways to show the empty streets. I pulled the tilt-shift lenses out of our gear closet to enhance the surreal look.

South Second Street sits empty between Peabody Place and Beale Street on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in downtownMemphis.

Bookending the month, I was sent to Jonesboro, Ark., after an EF-3 tornado went through the town the previous evening. I was there at first light.

Jamie Harmon (from left) photographs Ernie Hutton, 5, and her parents, Kelly and Grant, through a window Monday, March 30, 2020, in Memphis. Harmon has been making “quarantine portraits” as a way to document how people are living during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Rev. David Clark prays Wednesday, April 8, 2020, at Boston Baptist Church in Memphis. Religious leaders prayed in unison from their houses of worship, and invited all people of faith to join them in prayer from wherever they were. Clark is a member of Boston Baptist Church, and serves as the pastor at True Light Baptist Church in Blytheville, Ark. The Rev. Ydell Ishmon, pastor of Boston Baptist Church, said religious leaders in the tri-state area will continue praying in unison on Wednesdays at noon until the threat of COVID-19 subsides and a more traditional normalcy resumes.
Whitehaven High School senior Kathleen Sims, 18, has continued to train and condition for softball while at home. Photographed Tuesday, April 28, 2020, at Whitehaven High School in Memphis.

While photographing in a grocery store, I got to talking with the butcher who also serves as the pastor of a local church. He has a largely older congregation and turned to holding his services on a telephone conference call from his back porch.

The Rev. Vernon Vaughn leads his congregation from N-Sight Christian Center in worship over the phone Sunday, May 24, 2020, from the back patio at his home in Cordova. Vaughn said while legally they’re allowed to start returning to their house of worship, he doesn’t feel it to be safe to do so at this point as his church is small and many in his congregation are at a higher risk. The conference call service has been more approachable for many of his congregants who may not be comfortable with video conference technology.
A red-bellied woodpecker perches on a tree Tuesday, May 26, 2020, at Herb Parsons Lake in Collierville.

Then came my first trip to Louisville. I detailed this experience in a previous post.

Kenya Morris attended Evangelical Christian School between 1998 and 2011. Morris said she experienced microaggressions throughout her time at the school, but saw more overt racism around Barak Obama’s presidential election in 2008. Photographed with her kindergarten portrait Sunday, June 28, 2020, at her home in Cordova.
A protester is carried out by Memphis Police officers after refusing to leave Civic Center Plaza on Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in downtown Memphis. City officials announced plans Tuesday to remove protesters who have camped out for the past two weeks.
Downtown Memphis is seen over a field of sunflowers Monday, July 20, 2020, near the Big River Crossing in West Memphis, Ark.
A Shelby County Schools middle school teacher who declined to provide her name walks through the crowd with the effigy of the grim reaper Tuesday, July 21, 2020, during a protest outside of the Shelby County Schools district offices in Memphis.

One of the greatest honors of the year was to be part of the team covering the memorials for U.S. Rep. John Lewis in Alabama for USA Today.

A National Parks employee sweeps away water from the rainfall before the memorial service celebrating the life of civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church Saturday, July 25, 2020 in Selma, Ala.
Tony Hill, of Jacksonville, Fla., reads the newspaper while waiting to pay his respects to civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church Saturday, July 25, 2020 in Selma, Ala. Hill, who was traveling with his wife Pat to Selma, said he had known the congressman.

Many people asked how I planned out the image of the carriage crossing the bridge. The truth is that I didn’t.

The planning was in the fact that I was part of a team. Both George Walker of the Tennessean and Jake Crandall of the Montgomery Advertiser were also positioned on or around the bridge.

I was stationed at the chapel and ran down the street to see what I could see after the carriage passed by. When I found this quiet scene, I knew that’s where I wanted to be to make my image.

The horse-drawn carriage carries the casket of civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday, July 26, 2020 in Selma, Ala.
Lawrence Kern checks in with election judges seated behind plexiglass shields Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, before voting at Faith Presbyterian Church in Germantown.

One feature story I stumbled across while at the park was that of Greg Young and his giant rocket-propelled paper airplanes. That was such a fun, lighthearted story to work on. It was a welcome break from all of the craziness. It’s definitely worth seeing these things in action.

Greg Young launches an eight foot paper airplane from the top of a 12 foot ladder Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, at Levitt Shell in Memphis’ Overton Park.

Schools looked a bit different this year.

Addsion Bailey (from left) Abigail Hosea, Connor Gleason, Ella Garner and Fatmeh Jaber listen as art teacher Amanda Schulter talks through the syllabus Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, at Houston High School in Germantown. The school started back up with a hybrid plan, keeping the number of students on campus limited on any given day.
Millington’s Milton Yarbrough (13) flips Munford’s Jermyah Davis (32) as he tackles him Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, during a game at Munford High School.
Andrea Jones (from right) watches as her children, Kaylee Jones, 9, Eric Harris, 12, and Khila Harris, 15, get oriented with virtual learning on the first day of school Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, at their home in Memphis.
Ethan Furr, 15, built a ropes course on the grounds of The Bodine School in Germantown for his Eagle Scout project. Photographed Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, at the school in Germantown.

Marking the six-month mark of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Memphis, we tackled a big project looking at how different sectors of life have adapted to survive. My last stop of the day was the drive-in theater.

Jacob Roberts, 19, of Memphis, waits in the concessions building for customers Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, at Malco Summer Drive-In in Memphis. Roberts worked at the Malco Forest Hill location and was transferred to the drive-in during the pandemic.
Collierville Chief of Police Dale Lane walks an unidentified man away from Town Square Park in handcuffs Monday, Sept. 7, 2020, in Collierville. The man hit a cell phone out of the hand of Frances Marable, of Germantown, who was recording him.

In September, I was brought back to Louisville to assist in coverage around the grand jury verdict in the Breonna Taylor case.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr removes his mask before speaking Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, at the Memphis Police Department’s Ridgeway Station.
U.S. Senate candidate Marquita Bradshaw leaves her election headquarters on Lamar Avenue to vote Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, in Memphis.
Members of the absentee counting board check in on the floor of FedExForum early on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Memphis, Tenn.
Poll watcher Cedar Nordbye shows off some of his sketches from poll locations around Memphis on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Nordbye is floating between 12 different locations throughout the city.

Another career-first for me was spending time on a Native American reservation. This story is definitely worth a read.

Like his Choctaw ancestors before him, Cubert Bell couldn’t be convinced to cut ties with his ancestral home. The year was 1994. The house where Bell lives with his wife, children and grandchildren didn’t yet exist. Neither did his street, filled with multigenerational Choctaw families, nor the community center around the bend. It all sits now on 88 acres of the only autonomous land in Tennessee, where Bell’s family and other Choctaw sharecroppers formed a community that’s since become sovereign, operating their own public safety, health and other services while keeping their cultural traditions alive. Bell’s wife, Lacie, looks through a photo album with their granddaughter, Emani, 4, on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, at the Choctaw reservation in Henning.

And my very last assignment for the Commercial Appeal took me across state lines into Mississippi to hear a pastor’s plea to stay home for the holidays.

On at least one occasion this year, Pastor Bartholomew Orr has preached four funeral services over the course of a three-day weekend. Several times, he has led multiple funeral services on a Saturday. Time and time again, he crafts an individualized message about the deceased to their grieving family and friends, but keeps his message about the church’s COVID-19 protocols the same. His church, Brown Missionary Baptist Church in Southaven, has averaged more than a funeral a week this year. After delivering the church’s 77th funeral service Friday — a 50% increase from last year’s total of 51 — Orr issued a plea that families stay home for the holidays. Photographed Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, at Brown Missionary Baptist Church in Southaven.

I look forward to what 2020 will bring, and hopefully working with my team at IndyStar in person.

Protests in Louisville
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