Today I am celebrating six years in Montana. Six years at the Daily Inter Lake. I love this place. I love the job. I love my life. And for the past couple of weeks I have been working on a video slideshow and an article for the paper that was published yesterday.
About 24 hours ago I posted my video. Tonight I’m looking at the Facebook stats and honestly I’ve never had anything behave the way this video did. It has reached more than 100,000 people, had 28 thousand views and been shared more than 1000 times. The experience is rather humbling and definitely surreal.
Thank you for your interest in this story. For my blog I am going to focus on photos that didn’t make it into the video. Here is the story that started all this. I hope you enjoy. — Bren
Photos and story by Brenda Ahearn
Layout and design by Seaborn Larson
Tomorrow will be my sixth anniversary as a photographer for the Daily Inter Lake, and I’d like to give readers my personal thank-you note. In my years here I have had many people reach out to me, give me positive feedback and make me feel welcome. I am deeply grateful. But when I think of the people who have made this job such a positive experience, the person I think of first is actually the photographer who had the job before me, Karen Nichols.
Karen Nichols is beloved. When I first started working for the Inter Lake, I would go out on assignment and every day, every photo shoot, I would introduce myself and people would say something along the line of: “Oh you’re the new photographer? We LOVE Karen.” They let me know very clearly that I was following in the footsteps of someone great. Karen is a true talent and an amazing person. Every time I heard someone say how much they loved Karen, all I could think was, “Yes. I’m trying my very best.”
After several months on the job, I got an unexpected phone call from Karen. She invited me out to lunch. I didn’t have many friends at the time, and I remember being really impressed that she would reach out to the new photographer. We went to Gresko’s and as we ate our sandwiches Karen told me she had been watching my work, and that she wanted me to know I was doing a good job. This compliment felt huge. For months all I had heard was how amazing this woman is; to have her tell me I was on the right track was exactly the encouragement I needed.
I told her what I had been hearing, how every person I met seemed to have some story of her, or some compliment of her work. And Karen smiled. She bowed her head a bit and took the compliments I passed on humbly and graciously. I remember thinking that she had true grace. Then she looked back up at me and told me that one day, I would have people who felt that way about me and my work.
That didn’t seem possible at the time, but it became my goal. And now, six years later, I find she was right. I still run into people who love Karen. And they make me smile. But I also run into people who appreciate me. Believe me, when you have bright red hair and a press pass your identity doesn’t remain a secret for long. And that’s OK, because I have had people over and over stop to me to tell me that they like my work.
I find it sweet when someone sees my name on a form and they get this puzzled look on their faces as they wonder why my name looks so familiar. A couple of times a year I’ll get an email from a firefighter in Ferndale, telling me he’s made one of my photos his new computer background. Once when I was out photographing a car wreck I had a person figure out who I was and start telling me how much they like my photos. I didn’t have a lot of time because I had work to do, but I never forgot that person or the effort they made to let me know my work matters. There are people who call and leave messages. Or write emails. Or send flowers. Once I did a portrait of a World War II veteran. He was so pleased he sent the reporter and me each a box of chocolates.
These people do more than offer a pat on the back; they remind me of some important truths:
1. Community journalism is the best. When I was a young photographer I met a famous photographer to the stars. He said something that shaped the direction of my life. He told me that what we must not forget is that photography is about people, places and things. He said as you climb the ladder the people get more famous, the places get more exotic and the things get more expensive, but they are still just people, places and things. He said if he had understood that when he was young, he would have stayed at a smaller newspaper where he could really be a part of the community and use his talent and position to make a difference. I love living and working in the Flathead Valley because this is a place where I feel I can make a difference.
2. A photo in the newspaper is a big deal. I’ve been working for newspapers since 1997. When you are in this business it’s easy to get to a point where a front page photo is just another day in the life. However, it is a very big deal to the person who is in the photograph. Because of my job I have gotten to meet some incredible people and be part of telling amazing stories. It is a daily challenge and a daily responsibility. There are a lot of aspects about this job that are fun, but there are aspects that are important. And doing the job well is important.
3. “Work is a blessing.” My grandmother used to say this. When I applied for this job I was one of more than a hundred applicants. And the other photographer at the time let me know I was not the first choice. But the first choice said no, and so here I am. Over the years I have become the senior photographer for the Inter Lake, and my Grams was right, my work has been a blessing.
It’s a blessing I am grateful for. I love where I get to live and love what I get to do. I meet people who challenge me, inspire me, fill me with respect and push me to live life more fully. That’s the best part of working at a newspaper.
Last year while on assignment for the Inter Lake’s This Week in the Flathead publication, I was photographing the Northwest Artist Syndicate’s singer/songwriter competition. That was the first time I heard Mike Murray sing “Bury Me in Montana.” The song wrapped around my brain and instantly stole my heart. When I started thinking of how I wanted to share a look back at my years here, I knew it had to be a slide show and it had to have Mike’s song as the sound track. Here is the link to the video: https://www.facebook.com/BrendaAhearnPhotography/videos/1658748397701285/?fref=nf
Thank you to every person who has let me photograph them, and every person who has written or called or just said “well done” in passing. You mean more to me than you know.
I spent a lot of years hoping I would find a newspaper that I could settle down at, a place where I could build a life and stick around for 20-plus years. I think I finally found it.