Sunday, December 29, 2013

Kentucky's Leaves of Gold

Kentucky is a state with a rich agricultural heritage. Since it's founding in June of 1792, the Commonwealth's vast natural resources have supported everything from the world's finest bourbon distilleries to champion thoroughbred racehorses. This fall I was able to explore Kentucky's rich tradition of tobacco farming. I was captivated by the beauty of the leaves and fascinated by the traditional harvest and curing processes that have remained unchanged for centuries. I was also blown away by the work ethic of the migrant workers who performed the heavy labor of the harvest. Special thanks to local farmer Ray Tucker for allowing me unfettered access to his fields and tobacco barns.

Migrant worker Victor Parra of Mexico cuts Burley tobacco grown by Tucker Farms in Finchville, Ky. before hanging the leaves in barns to begin their six week curing process on the morning of Monday, September 9, 2013. The migrant workers participate in the U.S. Department of Labor's H-2A temporary agricultural program which allows agricultural employers to hire temporary help for seasonal work. Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images


Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Lost Boys - Jacob Mach

Earlier this year I began work on a long-term assignment for The New York Times Magazine. Over the course of a few months I got to know Jacob Mach, a Sudanese refugee who had settled in Atlanta, Ga. in 2001. Jacob is one of “The Lost Boys” who fled the Sudanese Civil War in the 1990’s. He and a group of boys from his village escaped genocide by fleeing into the African bush with little more than the clothes on their backs. Those who survived being chased by rebel fighters, crocodiles, and lions settled in a Kenyan refugee camp for the next ten years. Along with nearly 3,000 other lost boys, Jacob resettled in The United States through a State Department program. After gaining American citizenship and completing his undergrad in criminal justice at Georgia State, Jacob set out to become the first Lost Boy to work as a Law Enforcement Officer in the United States. It was amazing to witness Jacob's determination and faith in Jesus that allowed him to overcome the obstacles and setbacks along his journey in America. Read the story and watch the documentary here.

Sudanese Lost Boy Jacob Mach sits for a portrait on the front steps of his Habitat for Humanity house in Southeast Atlanta, Ga. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times Magazine


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Coming Home - Fort Knox

Last month I covered the return of 250 soldiers from Afghanistan to Fort Knox, Ky. for Getty Images. Troop returns are a lot of fun to photograph, though capturing the fleeting moments and gathering accurate caption information can be hectic and stressful as a photojournalist. There's something about seeing soldiers return from war and reunite with their families that resonates deeply inside me. Witnessing so many joyous reunions in a short period of time often causes tears of my own to well up and block my viewfinder. Still, I feel a tinge of sadness in my heart as I long for the reunion I never had with my cousin, Pfc. David H. Sharrett. Welcome home, troops.

Rachel Wolfston and her 2-year-old daughter Alexia wait to greet Spc. Joshua Wilson of the U.S. Army's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, during a homecoming ceremony in the Natcher Physical Fitness Center on Fort Knox in the early morning hours of Wednesday, November 20, 2013 in Fort Knox, Ky. About 250 soldiers from 3rd Brigade returned to Fort Knox after a nine-month combat deployment working alongside Afghan military and police forces in Afghanistan's Zabul Province. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)


Monday, December 23, 2013

Mike Yastrzemski for The New York Times

Earlier this year I photographed Vanderbilt University right fielder Mike Yastrzemski (#18) in Nashville before a home game. Mike (grandson of famous Boston Red Sox player Carl Yastrzemski) has been a standout player for Vandy for the last couple years and has good MLB draft prospects. Mike was great to shoot and really seemed like a pillar of the team. For more on Mike and the baseball heritage of the Yastrzemski family check out the story by Tyler Kepner of The New York Times here.

Vanderbilt senior right fielder Mike Yastrzemski (#18), grandson of Boston Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski, walks to batting practice before playing with the Vanderbilt Commodores against Presbyterian in Nashville, Tenn. on Wednesday, May 8, 2013. Vandy won 5-2. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Route 66

Last week I drove 125 miles of historic Route 66 between Williams and Holbrook, Arizona. Retracing what's left of "The Mother Road," the iconic 2400 mile highway that stretches from Chicago to Los Angeles, was a mixed bag of emotions. By the mid-eighties nearly all of the towns along Route 66 in Arizona had been bypassed by Interstate 40. Many of the bypassed towns have withered severely over the years. I only had a few hours this trip, but I could spend a week on Route 66 in Arizona alone. The road is rich with history and stories of a bygone era. Many great photographers have captured this strip of road in the past, but here's my humble contribution to telling the story of America's highway. Thanks are due to my dear wife for graciously letting me take a day of our vacation to shoot these photos.


Wigwam Village Motel #6 - Holbrook, Ariz.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Veterans Day 2013

I found myself back at Arlington National Cemetery this Veterans Day thanks to a cheap plane ticket and hospitable friends. Despite being a holiday devoted to living veterans, past and present, a few Americans also make their way to Section 60 to honor fallen comrades, friends, and family members. Below are a few frames from an ongoing series: Gardens of Stone.

PFC William F Clark
USMC - Sept. 16, 1996 - World War Two


Saturday, September 7, 2013

The 139th Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is without a doubt one of the most unique and exciting annual traditions of any state in the Union. The beauty of the champion thoroughbreds, the elegance of Churchill Downs, and the pomp and circumstance of seersucker suited men and derby hatted women combine to make the first Saturday in May a truly timeless event. Few things give me goosebumps quite like hearing the entire grandstand sing the state anthem "My Old Kentucky Home." Nor does any sound quite spike my heart rate as the thunderous hoof beats of the pack rounding the first turn. Every Derby is different, and this one was no exception. A steady, soaking rain fell throughout most of the afternoon, creating a sloppy track for the big race. Crowd favorite Orb crossed the finish line in first to clinch the most prestigious single race title in racing: Kentucky Derby champion.

Race horses complete their morning workouts at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. on the morning of the 139th running of The Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 4, 2013. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Old News

Here are some photos from Washington, DC after last year's election. Seeing as it took me 7 months to decide whether or not to blog them, I was hesitant to post them. They're no longer newsworthy, but hopefully these photos are good for something.

Campaign signs were placed outside a polling place at Hanover County Fire Dept. Station 4 in Doswell, Va. on election day, Tuesday, November 6, 2012. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Walking Wounded

I met Andrew and Tori Smith last Fall while on assignment at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Over the course of that day I saw firsthand deep unbreakable bonds of true love and dedication to country. Andrew was slowly building up his strength after spending months in a hospital bed undergoing reconstructive surgeries on his stomach, abs, and legs. Five months prior he had stepped on a pressure plate improvised explosive device (IED) while on patrol with the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan, losing both legs and shredding his abdomen. His wife Tori was by his side immediately upon his return to the United States, and has been there ever since. Theirs is a story of faith, love, and determination, and I was privileged to tell it. 

To be present in the gym at Walter Reed where America's wounded warriors learn to walk again was both familiar and foreign all at once. There is a tinge of loss and sacrifice that reminded me distinctly of Arlington Cemetery's hallowed gardens of stone. Yet simultaneously the air at Walter Reed is thick with defiance; defiance so thick you can choke on it. This defiance emanates thick from America's young warriors who cheated death. Many of these wounded warriors would return to foreign battlefields with bionic limbs to stare death in the face once again. Nowhere else is a violent loss of limb beneath-the-knee considered a "paper cut." Indeed, full recovery from such injuries can be achieved quicker than the average ACL tear. 

Tori Smith pushes her husband, Spc. Andrew Smith, through a parking garage at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. after his morning physical therapy session on Monday, October 22, 2012. Smith was severely wounded in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in Afghanistan on March 8, 2012 during his first deployment with the 82nd Airborne Division. Luke Sharrett for World Magazine.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Gardens of Stone - Arlington National Cemetery

Every Memorial Day scores of mourners make an annual pilgrimage to Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery. Located in the Southeast corner of Arlington's sprawling hallowed ground, this ever-growing plot of land is home to much of America's war dead from recent conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Global War on Terror. Section 60 is home to service members from all five branches of the military: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. Family members, friends, and complete strangers travel from around the country to stroll through the sea of white headstones, paying respects, reading names, placing flowers, and leaving behind mementos atop the graven white marble monuments. Throughout the year meaningful items are left atop and around the headstones of fallen military personnel, usually on birthdays or death anniversaries. In the days following Memorial Day and Veterans Day however, the number of mementos left behind grows substantially. From unit insignia, shell casings, roses, and challenge coins, to alcohol, candy bars, and childhood action figures, the items that adorn the headstones often tell a story that the headstone alone cannot. 

SFC Daniel Adrian Suplee
August 3, 2006 - Kabul, Afghanistan


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In the crosshairs: Gun Control

While walking through the Mass Media and Technology Hall at Western Kentucky University this afternoon a large 4 screen television bank broadcasting CNN caught my attention. There in the unintentional crosshairs formed by the 4 flat screen samsung TV's was the author of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and her apparent foil Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association. Shot with an iPhone 5.


Monday, January 28, 2013

The 57th Inauguration

The big day started with a 4am wake up call. Because I was assigned to be in the White House travel pool on Inauguration Day, I got to sleep in. My co-workers at the New York Times had to be at the U.S. Capitol by four, thus dictating an even earlier wake up call. This was my first inauguration "inside the bubble," but not my first altogether. In 2008 I road-tripped from Western Kentucky with friends and classmates from my photojournalism classes to cover President Barack Obama's first inauguration. We awoke long before the crack of dawn and stuffed ourselves into overloaded subway cars like sardines. By the time we got to the National Mall we couldn't get any closer to the Capitol than the Washington Monument. 

Fearing another challenging commute into downtown, I hurriedly dressed, slung my gear over my shoulder, and set off for the nearest Metro stop inside the Beltway. Upon descending underground into the Metro system I was surprised to see a nearly completely empty Metro train pull into the station. Metro was running trains every two minutes, but because of a much smaller than expected turnout, they were largely empty. It was a stark contrast compared to four years ago when millions descended on the Washington area, stretching its infrastructure to the breaking point.

I arrived downtown in less time than the same commute requires at rush hour. My next goal was to navigate a number of security checkpoints that ringed the White House in concentric circles. With a lanyard ladened with a sickening number of credentials, I passed through what seemed like countless concrete barriers, road blocks, security checkpoints manned by city cops and Secret Service agents. After an EOD sweep and one last trip through the magnetometers, I was finally where I needed to be to cover the days festivities. 

Busses blocked access to streets around the White House, this one at the intersection of 17th and I, on the morning of the 57th Inaugural on Sunday, January 20, 2013 in Washington, D.C. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times.