Bike The Bricks, McKinney, Texas

This past weekend a buddy of mine said,  “Why don’t you come out and enjoy some beers and watch a race in the Historic Downtown of McKinney, Texas”? I was intrigued, I mean he had me at the beers, but what was this race he was speaking of? I looked it up and it turns out that it’s a bicycle race called, Bike The Bricks. This multiple bike race (11 races) puts these cyclist on a timed (20-70 min) multiple lap 1 mile L-shaped track through a beautiful neighborhood and McKinney’s Downtown. Spectators are inches from the action as some riders reach speed of 40mph.

I called my friend back and told him I am in and will see you down there!

I have never photographed a bike race before and a couple of free beers in-between had me stoked!

This is my take on the 2018 Bike The Bricks!!!

 

 

Honored To Be A USVAA Colleagues

I am Honored that I was asked to be a representing colleague with the United States Veterans’ Artists Alliance (USVAA). I am also very humbled to be among this talented group of amazing artist! I hope you will take the time to check out some of the other artist that make up USVAA’s, film, fine art, photography, music, literature & poetry, theater, television and technology.

USVAA is a multi-disciplinary arts organization composed of a diverse group of dynamic, extraordinarily talented military veterans and artists located across the United States.

Founded in 2004, USVAA seeks to open doors for military veterans to work and thrive in America’s creative economy by providing opportunities in the arts, humanities and entertainment industry. With a solid track record of programming excellence in place, USVAA works tirelessly with veterans, artists, supportive individuals and organizations within the arts and veterans’ communities to find funding and support for individual and collaborative projects in photography, literature, theater, film, television, fine arts and a wide variety of crafts.

In addition to our work with veterans and artists, we strive first and foremost to highlight the talents of military veterans and the history of veterans who have made significant contributions to the arts and humanities since the Revolutionary War. To date we have compiled biographical information on the over 550 military veterans who have made noted contributions to the arts and humanities since the founding of the United States.

 

Voices In The Streets When The NRA Comes To Dallas

This weekend the city of Dallas hosted the NRA convention and thousands of gun enthusiast. While others FOR and AGAINST the NRA took to the city streets to let their voices be heard. This is a combination of three rallies: Stand Up To The NRA, Rally 4 Reform and a open carry fire arm rally.

It was great getting out there and running into some old friends like Adrees Latif while working with a younger photographer I am mentoring. All the rallies went of great and from what I could tell I didn’t see any fighting from opposing sides. When I did encounter anything it was a discussion between the two.

March for Eternal Life

First Baptist, Dallas, Texas, Palm Sunday.
On Sunday March 25, 2018 my church, First Baptist experienced a night of worship with singer Sandi Patty and observed The Lord’s Supper. After service, the congregation led by Pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress participated in the March for Eternal Life as they carried a lit cross to Klyde Warren Park proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ.

March For Our Lives In Dallas

On March 24, 2018 citizens across Dallas took to the streets in solidarity with the March For Our Lives and stand united in support of common gun laws. The event started with a march through the streets of downtown Dallas and ended with students speaking out to the masses.

The event was organized by local students with the help of organizers who have worked on past marches in solidarity with the national March on Washington.

Here is a look at my day documenting the event.

ISIS Last Stronghold

With only 8.1 km separating Batnaya and Tel Skuf, they existed as sister cities in an area of Iraq called the Nineveh Plain – a place that Christians and other ethnoreligious minorities have lived for millennia.

When ISIS swept across Iraq in August 2014 on a mission of systematic annihilation against Christians and other religious minorities, chaos ensued. People were forced to flee their homes instantly, knowing full well that ISIS would soon destroy their churches, houses and places of work. Eventually, ISIS took Batnaya with the full intention to advance towards Tel Skuf, desecrating everything in its way.

In the resulting struggle between the Kurdish army, called Peshmerga, and ISIS to take possession of the land, Batnaya became a desolate moonscape and Tel Skuf an uninhabited ghost town, constantly under enemy fire, directly on the war’s front line. By October 2017, the Peshmerga, together with the Coalition Forces, drove out the last of the ISIS from Batnaya and eventually all of Nineveh.

In Tel Skuf, 300 families have started the process of patching their lives back together. In Batnaya, however, only one man has re-established his home and returned with his family. Even with ISIS gone, the current political uncertainty has caused some to hesitate on returning to Nineveh while others have chosen to leave the province altogether, seeking refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan, other nearby countries, or in the West. For all the displaced people of Nineveh, these towns mean more than the streets and buildings – Nineveh is the wounded but still beating heart of Iraq’s minority population.

The Nineveh Plains are symbolic, a cultural and religious landmark and to remain with the uncertainties of war still on the horizon is to claim ownership of one’s future there. -Story written by Taylor Nam

Erbil, located approximately 120 kilometers north of Baghdad, is the capital city of the Kurdistan Region and became the destination for hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the neighboring province of Nineveh. This region is where the majority of Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities, including a nearly 2,000-year-old Christian community, reside. Although ISIS never reached Erbil itself, war consumed its neighboring cities and threatened the lives of everyone in the area until its expulsion from Iraq in the fall of 2017.

In a process of systematic persecution of Christians and other ethnoreligious minorities like Yazidis, ISIS invaded the Nineveh Plains with the intent of creating its territorial caliphate and to obliterate everything representing these cultures. Women and children were no exception. When ISIS took Batnaya, thousands fled to the Kurdistan region with only minutes notice, taking with them only what they could carry and leaving most of their possessions behind. Once clear of Batnaya, they had little place to go except for refugee camps. Although they may have escaped the ISIS invasion, the people of Nineveh were far from safe.

Batnaya’s neighbor, Telskuf, was held by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and became the front line against ISIS. The militants who captured Batnaya were stopped only a few kilometers away. Filled with homes, shops, restaurants, schools — like any normal town — Telskuf marked the last line of defense in Northern Iraq. Just on the horizon and after years of occupation, looting, shelling, desecration and eventually coalition bombing, Batnaya was reduced to near rubble as Telskuf remained relatively intact.

Although ISIS nearly captured Telskuf it continued to besiege it daily with mortars, artillery, sniper infiltrations and roadside bombs. Eventually, the extremists were pushed back by the Peshmerga forces with air support from the United States. As a defensive measure, The Peshmerga drew literal lines in the sand with WWI-like trenches dug deep into the Telskuf ¬that remain visual scars recent conflict.

For almost three years, ISIS ravaged Batnaya and continually attacked Telskuf. The rubble piles and dry, fragmented vegetation in both towns reflects the destruction. With debris littering the streets and entire buildings leveled almost beyond recognition, Nineveh was transformed from an ancient sanctuary to ruins.

In Batnaya, very few buildings withstood ISIS’s occupation. Those that did were disfigured by the ravages of war – graffiti, bullet holes, bomb craters, missing walls and piles of rubble. With all the residents gone and around 80-percent of the town damaged, the now ghost town took on a moonscape-like appearance. The Peshmerga (with air support from the U.S.) eventually pushed ISIS out of Batnaya but the retreating fighters scorched the earth as they fled by blowing up key infrastructure, llooting and leaving booby traps for the victors in an already devastated city. The Christians of Batnaya have been slow to return, because so little of their old lives remain and danger still exists.

By September 2017, only one family had returned to Batnaya. They live in what would be a normal home in any other town but here, perched amidst the wreckage; the structure’s mere existence is remarkable. Other residents, while at first expressing their resolution to return to their city, now face the reality that everything they once knew is nearly gone.

What used to be a place of worship, the Catholic Church in Batnaya, now stands as a testament to jihad. With the statuary destroyed and the building in near ruins, the altar was used as target practice by occupying ISIS militants. On the walls, hateful messages were made in Arabic but also in German ISIS soldier scribbled caliphate graffiti on the walls – a testament to ISIS’s global appeal. The local vicar has expressed that he will keep the bullet-riddled altar as a monument and a reminder to visitors and Parishioners alike that although outside forces like ISIS may try to wipe out Christianity, the community will endure.

Clothing, toys, and photos — memories of happier days — all had to be left behind when the people of Nineveh fled for their lives. In the choice between personal mementos and one’s life, the decision is instinctual and often instantaneous. For the Christians of Batnaya, the abandonment and loss of material things represents how quickly their lives can be taken from them.

Initially, the general attitude among the displaced Christians, Yazidis and other refugees was that they would return to their towns in Nineveh, including Batnaya and Telskuf, when ISIS was defeated. However, some have left Iraq and will never return seeking refuge in neighboring counties like Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and beyond. Many remain in refugee camps with no money or means to rebuild.

In Telskuf, the town is making a comeback with stores and shops reopening. Even restaurants are turning on their lights once more.

No matter if they choose to go back home to Telskuf and Batnaya or to move elsewhere, the attitude of those Christians and the other displaced peoples who lived through the ISIS invasion remains one of hope and pride. ISIS did not win. Jihad did not prevail. And, for the future, hope exists.

January 20, 2018 Dallas Impeach Trump Rally

This weekend we had three rally’s (Woman’s March, Pro-Life, and Impeach Trump) here in Dallas.  I chose to go out and cover the Impeach Trump Solidarity Rally & March For North Texas. The weather here finally warmed up and maybe around 100 people gathered at Dallas City Hall to call for Trump’s impeachment.

2017 Snowball Express

It warms my heart to be a part of Snowball Express once again! Here is some of my favorite moments from this year’s event with these amazing children. And, yes there were many times this year that I had to wipe away tears in my eyes while I was shooting.

Snowball Express is one of the few charities dedicated to the children of our nation’s fallen military heroes changing lives, giving hope, creating wonderful memories, and inspiring these children to realize that anything they dream of doing is possible to accomplish.

Kolkata 24

I just returned back home from a truly epic 37-day trip to the northeastern part of India with a fellow retired Army photographer friend of mine, Russell Klika. You can find him on Instagram at: rklika

Trip Overview:
We started our India trip out from the city of Kolkata and headed north into Arunachal Pradesh and visited the city of Tawang and Ziro. Next we went to Guwahati in Assam for transportation to Nagaland. Lastly we started to make our way home back to Kolkata but not before stopping at Majuli Island for some relaxation. Stay tuned for upcoming stories I worked on in these areas!

Kolkata:
After a physically demanding trip in the remote regions of northeastern India we finally made it back to Kolkata where we had a few days to burn before our flight home. Jokingly, Russell said, “We should go out and photograph Kolkata for 24 hrs.” And “Kolkata 24” was born! I then laid down the rules. I said, “This is awesome, and you must produce an image every hour to share on a social media platform, so at the end you HAVE to show 24 images.” The game was born, but little did we know how demanding it would be. A local friend and photographer Raj Maeyukh Dam decided to join in with us and help us around the city. Our little adventure took us to such places as the Chicken Hotel Market, Old Kolkata, numerous Ghats, a railway colony, Chinatown, nightclubs, the train station, flower market and running the streets in the late hours with the dogs. (Next time you see me, ask me about the craziest thing I have ever seen with dogs, it blew my mind!)
During our game, we had some great hours where we would stumble upon something cool and shooting would be great. But on the other hand you had the hours were we would be in transit from one part of the city to another or in a place where nothing was really going on and shooting was hard. It didn’t matter the situation, you have to have an image to represent that hour. Which now brings me to my next point. Editing of the final 24 images to produce a well-rounded representation of the city was another challenge. On the good hours you had to cut some of your best images of the day and on the not so good hours you might be posting a fish picture from dinner in Chinatown.
“Kolkata 24” was a blast and a great way to test our skills! I hope you enjoy the way I saw this vibrant and energetic city in 24hrs.
I would love to hear your comments!

“Kolkata 24” Timeline
5-6 am: Hogg Market: Chicken Hotel Market
6-7 am: Walking Central Kolkata
7-8 am: Walking Shakespeare Sarani (area)
8-9 am: Metro to Kalighat
9-10 am: Kalighat market & Viewed Mother Teresa hospital. (No photos allowed)
10-11 am: Coffee at Raj’s uncle & ride to our hotel to refresh cards and batteries
12-1 pm: Our hotel and the Taltala Market area
1-2 pm: Heading to Old Kolkata through traffic and Central Kolkata
2-3 pm: Old Kolkata Ghat and the railway colony
3-4 pm: Old Kolkata
4-5 pm: Old Kolkata Nimtala Park (affection)
5-6 pm: Bara Bazar
6-7 pm: Drive to Chinatown, Topsin and dinner at Lee Garden
7-8 pm: China Town, Topsin
8-9 pm: China Town Topsin and to a fair (stuck in traffic)
9-10 pm: Fair and walk to our hotel to refresh cards and batteries
10-11 pm: Our hotel then head to Sudder street by walking
11-12 am: Sudder street & Park street
12-1 am: Park street
1-2 am: Park street (Roxy Club) & Sudder street
2-3 am: Howrah Train station area
3-4 am: Howrah Train station & Malik Ghat Flower Market
4-5 am: Malik Ghat Flower Market

National Geographic Magazine, The French Version

Feeling so blessed to come home after such a long trip and find in the mail a beautiful surprise! My photo ran in such an amazing magazine, the French version!!!!

See sweetie, it wasn’t all fun and games on our honeymoon! 😉

Kurdistan, Iraq Color Fest

On my recent trip to Kurdistan, Iraq with the amazing Mercury One we had a little down time to take in the first ever festival of colors in Sami Abdulrahman Park, Erbil, hosted by the Nishtiman Youth Network (NYN)

Color Fest was happening the day after we arrived in Iraq. This was the first large gathering of Kurdish young people (aged 13 to 30 and some “young at hearts” like us) celebrating ethnical, religious, and cultural diversity in the region. This festival took place a couple days before their Independence referendum vote.

Every Kurdish youth must have been there. It was a celebration of freedom and independence! With techno music blaring from the stage, they threw color powder in the air and at one another while a helicopter dropped rose petals from the sky. It was not too long ago that that ISIS controlled this region. It was incredible to experience and be part of this jubilation and celebration of normalcy and unity for all those that have weathered through turmoil and crisis.

According to Wikipedia, On 25 September 2017 Kurdistan held their referendum vote with preliminary results showing approximately 93 percent, cast in favor of Kurdistan independence. The referendum’s legality was rejected by the federal government of Iraq.