I feel so fortunate to have my job at the Daily Inter Lake. I love working for a community newspaper. I love feeling like I have the ability to contribute something meaningful with the work that I do, to the people and place I call home.
Journalism offers a photographer a palette of colors to choose from that is rich and varied. One gets to witness everything, from moments of joy to gut-wrenching heartbreak. Magical moments. Quiet moments. People. Places. Cool things. It isn’t always “fun” but in this business, the good far outweighs the bad.
As I’m looking back at 2016 I have to pick no more than four favorite images that will have a shot at being published in this Sunday’s Daily Inter Lake Montana Life Section. Herein is one of the great downsides to working for a newspaper — space. There is only so much space, and those who purchase ads get some of it. So narrowing down all the photos of the year into the truly essential ones is hard.
My best of list started with 96 images. I looked through everything and picked out what I really liked. Don’t worry, I’m not going to fill a blog with that many photos. I have narrowed my list down to 30. These are in chronological order except for the final four. If you only care to see the ones I am submitting to our editors jump to the end.
My grandmother used to tell me, “Work is a blessing.” When I look back at this year and everything I’ve gotten to do — weddings, family photos, bridal portraits, theater performances, portraits of musicians, destination weddings, travel photography, and all the chaos of the newsroom…it has been an amazing year. And I agree with my grandmother, work is a blessing.
I hope you enjoy these. If you’d like to see my favorite landscape photos of the year check out the previous blog.
Living in Whitefish at the base of the Whitefish Mountain Resort, aka Big Mountain, I spend a lot of time gazing at the way the light plays on these peaks. I’ve also spent more time than one might expect looking for the perfect view of the mountain. There are some really great public access spots like Whitefish Lake State Park and City Beach, but there is also a lot of private property that one can’t access. One of my goals for 2017 is to get more time on the lake so I can get different angles of the mountain that makes my home so spectacular.
Becca and Nick Spear are fantastic! I’ve worked with them on so many projects in my time here in Montana: the Alpine Theatre Project, Nick doing his solo work and as lead singer of the New Wave Time Tripper. Becca is one of my favorite people to photograph because she is just so expressive. She makes the best faces and just owns it. So when our entertainment editor asked me to do a profile of these two, I instantly started thinking about doing something with Greek comedy and tragedy masks. I went searching for such masks, but was not able to acquire a set before the photo shoot. But when I explained my idea to these two they instantly made the faces above. No questions. No instructions. She went happy. He went sad. I had seconds to get the shot but I loved it. And this photo always makes me smile because the authenticity of the moment just jumps out of the image.
For anyone connected to music in the Flathead Valley the closing of Crush Wine Bar was definitely one of the stories of the year. This is my portrait of owner Megan Grunow at Crush on Tuesday, February 2.
One of the best parts of being a journalist is getting to work so closely with my local first responders. This image is of Fire Department engineer F. Ray Ruffatto checking on the ladder truck outside 327 Ponderosa Lane in the early hours of Saturday morning, February 20, north of Kalispell. Kalispell and West Valley Firefighters responded to a report of smoke and another possible flare up around 2:30 a.m. A structure fire was initially reported and responded to at the residence on Friday evening.
Donna Maddux as the Story Lady reads to children at the Whitefish Library on Thursday morning, February 18.
This image of U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., as he toured the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company plant on Tuesday afternoon, February 16, became even more significant for me later in the year when Zinke was named as President Trump’s nominee for Interior Secretary. This image was picked up by Outside Magazine and another of my portraits of Ryan was used by Fox News. I know a lot of people are nervous about the direction Donald Trump will take this country, but for Interior Secretary he couldn’t have done better than a native Montana. Living here, a person can’t help but fall in love with the wonders around us and want to protect them.
I love Mikey Winn. This portrait of Mikey was done at the O’Shaughnessy Center in Whitefish on Tuesday, March 29. Winn is currently preparing for Tribes at the Whitefish Theatre Company but is a well known face in the arts community based on his work with the Alpine Theatre Project, the Viscosity Theatre Cabaret and others. Plus he’s adorable (personal opinion). When I got back to the office and showed this image to entertainment editor Stefanie Thompson, she lit up and couldn’t help smiling. “That’s just so Mikey!”
This year two of my favorite organizations in the Flathead Valley joined forces for an incredible performance. Here Eric Michael Krop as Anthony Hope rehearses a song from Sweeney Todd, a joint production with the Alpine Theatre Project and the Glacier Symphony and Chorale. “The Glacier Symphony and Chorale was a dream to work with,” said Luke Walrath. “John (Zoltek) and Betsi (Morrison) have a real mutual respect that makes for great collaboration.” I photograph a lot of ATP’s season, but this was definitely one of my favorites of the year.
This is one of those quieter moments that make up our community. Leif Castren of Kalispell with his “little brother” Rylan, 10, at Lawrence Park on Thursday, April 21, in Kalispell. Rylan has been in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program since 2014. This photo was done in advance of the BBBS fundraiser in an effort to raise awareness of the event and get more people involved.
Not every aspect of working at a newspaper is fun. Some of it is horrifying. This is the scene of a fatal crash involving a pickup truck and a logging truck. The debris spread across both lanes of highway 35 and backed up traffic for miles. For me, one of the most heartbreaking moments of this was seeing a friend of mine who is a member of local law enforcement. He looked pale and shaken, which one doesn’t often see out of first responders. This wreck was a bad one.
This photo of Kristen Ledyard wearing her sash and crown in front of her formal dining room on Monday, May 23, in Whitefish, absolutely had to be one of my favorites of the year because I walked into her home never dreaming I’d be met at the door by a beauty queen in full regalia. I remember this distinct moment of pause when I looked at her and had to get to a place in my mind where I could say to myself, “OK…let’s go with it.” Ledyard is the owner of John’s Angels Catering in Whitefish. I made a return trip for photos of her in the kitchen, but this one just makes me smile.
Another of my favorite organizations in the valley is Straight Blast Gym. For a few years I have been working with Kisa and Travis Davison photographing various aspects of gym life. This is one of their members Hamilton Ash. He is a mixed martial arts fighter with Straight Blast Gym of Montana and this portrait was done for a story about a televised fight he was preparing for.
By far and away this was one of my favorite things to photograph for 2016. Holocaust survivor Peter Metzelaar came to speak to students at Glacier High School. Here he is with Rabbi Francine Green Roston. This was one assignment that I brought my journal to. I asked my boss if I could stay and listen after I was done with my photos (normal protocol is to get photos in the beginning and leave as unobtrusively as possible). I had never had the chance to hear a survivor speak and my editor graciously let me stay and listen to his harrowing story. Metzelaar and his mother were the only members of their family to survive the Holocaust.
Hattie deVries-Treat, 3, of Kalispell, climbs into the BEAR, a tactical support vehicle for the Kalispell Police Department Special Response Team, on Saturday afternoon, May 14, at the Spring into Safety event at the Summit as Officer Dennis Bain, right, keeps watch. Law enforcement officers from both Kalispell Police and the Montana Highway Patrol were on site giving demonstrations and running a bicycle safety course. The event took place the day before Peace Officers Memorial Day and the start of Police Week 2016 which continues until Saturday, May 21. In a proclamation President Barrack Obama said, “It takes a special kind of courage to be a peace officer. Whether deputies or detectives, tribal police or forest service officers, beat cops or Federal agents, we hold up those who wear the badge as heroes. Though they too often spend their days witnessing America at its worst, in their extraordinary examples, we see America at its best. On this day and throughout this week, let us celebrate those who nobly serve each day — and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice — to move our world toward a more just and safe tomorrow. May we carry forward their brave and selfless spirit as we keep working together to shape a future worthy of their commitment.”
Jordan Griffith shares a laugh with a classmate before climbing the stage to receive her diploma on Saturday, June 4, at the Glacier High School Class of 2016 Commencement ceremony. I have a sort of love/hate relationship with graduation ceremonies. On the one hand, they are a target rich environment. On the other, there is so much going on I feel like I miss moments because they are harder to anticipate. But in spite of my hatred of the song Pomp and Circumstance, I always try to remember my graduation, how proud and happy I was. That helps me relate better to what they’re feeling and I think helps me photograph them.
One night, on my day off, when I was coming back to the Flathead Valley after a trip down to Polson, I caught sight of a gorgeous red barn and wanted to photograph it. And look, there was this guy outside trimming grass and I was able to ask for permission. I am a bit obsessive about asking for permission because this is still Montana and there are plenty of signs telling me trespassers will be shot. I got some gorgeous photos, but as I was about to leave I looked back at the guy and the light hitting him was just phenomenal. Two shots on my day off. Both of which made the paper. It was not a bad night.
One of the hardest aspects of being friends with so many LEOs and firefighters is the concern that something will go badly wrong for one of my friends. This year has been especially hard for that. In 2016 139 law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty. More than 60 of these were shot and killed.
This photo makes me happy. Smith Valley firefighter Danielle Teske smiles as she and other firefighters do laps in their gear to raise funds for the Smith Valley Fire Department on Sunday, July 31, at Legends Stadium in Kalispell as part of a fundraiser after an arsonist destroyed the Foy’s Lake Station. According to Smith Valley Fire Chief DC Hass the community has been very generous in the aftermath of the fire. “The public support has been very humbling, ” said Haas. “And the neighboring departments have been amazing.” I laid down on the track hoping for a cool angle in the bight afternoon light. And Teske decided to mess with me. But I got the shot and she laughed out loud when I told her this one would make the paper.
This year the law enforcement community here lost one of their own. Brad Treat, a LEO with the Flathead National Forest, who died as a result of an encounter with a bear. On June 29, Treat and a friend were mountain biking in the Halfmoon Lake area when the pair surprised a bear along the trail. His friend was able to escape to get help, but the attack on Treat proved fatal. Photographing funerals is never an easy job. Even in a case like this where so many of the guys know me, where so many people want the news media to be there and to pay attention as they honor their friend…it still feels like I am intruding. For these photos I went to Glacier High School where the funeral procession was lining up before making its way through town. It’s always hard to figure out where to pick your shots. If you go to the line up, you miss them rolling through town. If you set up in town you can have a miserable time finding a parking place and getting to the start of the funeral. If you just go the funeral, you miss all the getting there shot. I decided to go to the staging area and I’m glad I did because I got photos no one else did. I was also allowed to climb up the ladder of one of the fire trucks (they were there to fly a huge American Flag over the roadway at the start of the procession). The elevated view is how I got this photo showing the massive turn out of first responders for one of their own.
I don’t photograph sports too much anymore. I am the daytime photographer and sports are mostly an evening event. But for one of the games this year the other photographer needed to be off on Friday and so I got to shoot Friday night football in Kalispell. It was fun. A nice change from my normal. Glacier running back Drew Turner (32) gets stopped after gaining a few yards during the first half of the game against the Helena Capital Bruins on Friday night, September 9.
This year the Kalispell voters overwhelmingly approved a pair of bonds for $54 million dollars. This would cover the costs of building a new elementary school and upgrades to multiple other school facilities across the district. I was so proud of our newspaper for how we did this. We went on every tour of each of the schools photographing and gathering information on what each needed. The education reporter Hillary Matheson wrote story after story detailing each project. It was so much work. And going on the tours made it obvious that the work was desperately needed. I don’t know who we swayed of the voters, but I don’t doubt that the work the Daily Inter Lake did on this issue was not only well done, it was impactful.
Ok. As I’m writing this, I’m starting to think 30 photos was too many. 🙂 This is an image of the Conrad Mansion at sunset. For our entertainment section we did haunted stores from around the Flathead Valley and this was one of my favorite shots. The mansion graciously agreed to leave the lights on for me and I brought the candles to give the foreground more definition. The most annoying part of this was how the wind would blow and a few spots along the path were unprotected. I had to keep racing off to relight candles. But still, it made for a fun night.
Doug Foulett has his portrait taken with a truck he bought to use as a snow plow back in 1959 for $250. Foulett said the only reason they sold it to him was they expected it to rust out. He smiles as he says every year the truck seems to say to him, “I’m still ready to go, how about you?” This is just an ordinary photo for a little story about the life of one of the members of our community. But I loved it. And I loved meeting Doug.
I photograph a lot of school events and a lot of kids. However, I don’t often include these in my best of because one of my journalism teachers always said, “Photographing kids is cheating.” They are easier to photograph than adults. They get so fully engaged in what they are doing that they forget about the camera and just live. I wish adults could be like this. I wish I could be more like this.
From left, Mike Murray, David Walburn and Nick Spear play a song during a photo shoot at Whitefish Lake State Park on Tuesday, Nobember 1. The three will be performing in the Stumptown Songwriter’s Circle will be Thursday, November 10 at 7:30 at the O’Shaughnessy. So many times the goal of the newspaper is not to go to an actual event, but rather to make photos and stories before hand so we can let readers know something good is coming up. That’s what lead to this photo. It was delightful to watch these three singer/songwriter/storytellers with their easy rapport and off the charts talent. This was definitely one of my favorite moments of the year. I also went to that concert and it was one of the best I’ve seen.
I love this time of year. After days of crappy weather I woke up to clear skies and just knew the mountain was going to be amazing. It didn’t disappoint. In fact, it never does.
Ok. Now I am down to my final four images. These are the ones I am going to give my editor for my favorites of 2016. It was hard to choose these. Some of them are images I love, but also these were photos from stories that were significant this year.
Cindy Juntunen, grandmother of Forrest Groshelle, cries in court as Brandon Newberry takes his seat with the defense lawyers on Wednesday morning, February 10, at District Court in Kalispell. The trial for the man accused of killing Evergreen toddler Forrest Groshelle began in March. Brandon Walter Lee Newberry beat his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son to death and was charged with deliberate homicide. He pleaded not guilty in February. Newberry has since been found guilty and has been ordered to spend the next 40 years at the Montana State Prison. The sad story continued through the year and in October Takara Kaye Juntenen, Forrest’s mother, pleaded guilty to felony negligent homicide.
Austyn Andrachick, front to back, Hunter Palmer, and Trenton Tyree (on Palmer’s shoulders) and other team members wave to cars to invite them to their fundraiser car wash on Tuesday afternoon, June 28, in Whitefish. Ironically the day the community woke up to learn the bleachers at the Sapa-Johnsrud Babe Ruth Fields has been destroyed in a fire the team members were already scheduled to do the fundraiser at the Cenex Zip Trip to help with travel expenses for tournaments. Babe Ruth President Ray Queen said the field doesn’t have any structural insurance. That means the costs of repairs will have to be met by the league. Fundraisers are still in the discussion phase but there is a GoFundMe page through which the league is trying to raise $30,000. The fire appears to have been started by someone setting off fireworks.
This image is special to me for a number of reasons. First off, this is Kintla Lake in the north region of Glacier National Park. My teacher/mentor/best friend Tim Webb and his family came to visit me this summer and I wanted them to see some of the remoteness of Glacier. This was the first time I had seen Tim in years and it was the first time in many more years that we were on a photo shoot together. When we saw the guy in the red boat at the base of the purple mountains on the blue lake with that big patch of green we looked at each other and just smiled. Red will make photographers very happy. But the photo is also significant to me because hen we got back to civilization I sent this to the Associated Press office in New York. They loved it. It became one of their “APTOPIX” which are the top picks of the AP. It was an honor. To see my favorite nature and landscape images from 2016 check out my top ten at: http://www.brendaahearn.com/blog/2016-favorites
Bernadette Binoya Fuhst of the Philippines throws her head back joyfully after receiving a small American Flag as well as her American Citizenship certificate. This was one of my favorite stories of the year, a Naturalization ceremony in Glacier National Park. It was particularly meaningful for me because I so clearly remember when my father became a citizen. My dad, Michael James Ahearn, was a Canadian citizen when he joined the United States Marines to fight in the Vietnam War. To read more of his story and to see other images from this day check out this blog entry: http://www.brendaahearn.com/blog/naturalization-ceremony-in-glacier-national-park-1
This wraps up my 2016. Next up I am going to do a blog on my favorite wedding photos of the year and then it is full swing into 2017. I hope all of you reading this have an amazing year in store for you.
To view my favorite wedding images from the year check this out.
Or to view my favorite scenics try this link.