The Camera Eye | Arts and Culture | Style Weekly

When I selected images for the 40th anniversary issue, I tried to pick photographs that resonated the most through the years with Style Weekly readers.

The photos illustrate the breadth of our coverage: A young boxer full of promise practicing in an abandoned elementary school; synchronized swimmers watching a performance by ballerinas; a girl posing proudly with her horse at the State Fair of Virginia; a girl being baptized in the James River; and more recently, a young Black teenager with the words “I am my ancestors’ wildest dream” on his T-shirt, playing basketball in the shadow of the Robert E. Lee monument.

The beauty of being a photojournalist in Richmond for the past 23 years is that I feel like I’ve seen it all. All the major politicians have campaigned here, Hurricane Isabel roared through, Gaston flooded Shockoe Bottom, some 20,000 Second Amendment supporters descended on the Virginia State Capitol, the Confederate statues came down, and more recently, a global pandemic shuttered the city. In addition to being there for the big moments, Style also specialized in covering hyper local stories such as the Latino community living in trailer parks on Highway 1, a homeless couple sleeping in a tent during winter along the James River, or people caring for an overgrown and mostly forgotten Black cemetery.

When I started in 1999, we were still shooting film and developing prints in the darkroom. Today photos are made with digital cameras and the images can be sent immediately via Wi-Fi through iPhones. Often we used medium format film cameras to produce the weekly covers. Despite technological advances, the photographer’s mission remains the same: Make images with maximum impact that truthfully depict the situation.

Hopefully, the images here accomplished that mission.

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Kendall Lands, 9, from Gloucester, competes in equine events at the Virginia State Fair with her horse Snowman in September, 2016.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: As I wandered the fairgrounds looking for interesting characters to photograph and interview, I happened upon Kendall Lands, with her pink outfit covered with embroidery. It was high noon and the light was harsh, so I asked her to bring her horse under the awning of a nearby building. While she grabbed the lead and looked at me, Snowman looked away and everything came together. Kendall fits perfectly into the space at the horses’ shoulders, while Snowman’s perked-up ears, the geometric bars in the background, her hands on the lead and her expression, make for a portrait of a happy young equestrian.

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SCOTT ELMQUIST

Leah Mei Ward, 8, is baptized in the James River by Rev. Jim Somerville on July 17, 2011. Somerville revived the tradition of James River baptisms three years earlier when he became the senior pastor of First Baptist Church at Monument Avenue and the Boulevard. Founded in 1780, First Baptist was among the first churches in Richmond. River baptisms have long been part of the church’s 231-year history.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: Of all the people baptized that day, Leah’s expression was the most serene. Just before she went under the water, a swell formed for an instant. I was lucky to get that moment where her expression is calm as her small hand grips Somerville’s wrist.

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Gulmira Elham, 20, a Virginia Commonwealth University student listens to remarks during the Muslim ban and border wall protest at VCU on Jan. 29, 2017. The ban was proposed by the Trump administration. Gulmira Elham, 20, Student, Virginia Commonwealth University “What made me resist that day was that, as a first-generation immigrant, I was scared and felt abandoned. After the event, I found hope and had belief in people for all of us. Also I learned that Muslims are not alone and we are all in this together.”

PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: Elham was on the cover of the 2017 Richmond of the Year issue representing the resistance, everyday Richmonders who decided to stand up and fight back.

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Melachi Cobbs flies high for the dunk at the Robert E. Lee Monument on Juneteenth, June 19, 2020.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: I had just come off a week of furlough and was eager to begin documenting the protests again. That evening, there was a Juneteenth celebration happening at the Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond, Virginia. The grounds of Lee Circle were busy. Most people were gathered on the South side of the monument listening to speakers. I left the crowd, circled the monument and saw the young boys playing pickup. Just then the sun peeked through the clouds and provided great evening light. The hoop was aligned perfectly with the heavily graffitied monument. I knew when I made this image I was witnessing a sea change in Richmond’s history, as a young boy wearing an “I Am My Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams” shirt soared high on one of the most hallowed grounds of Confederate legacy. Only 10 years earlier, I had photographed hundreds of people in the exact same spot with Confederate flags, at a Sons of Confederate Veterans Heritage Rally, so I never thought I would see this moment.

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Nolan Delano protests the Michael Brown decision at the John Marshall on Nov. 25, 2014. Nearly 500 people gathered in downtown Richmond to protest a Ferguson, Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer who shot dead unarmed Black teen Michael Brown in August. The protest gathered at the John Marshall Courts Building, where demonstrators held signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and unfurled a banner that stated “Police are the Enemy.” Dozens of Richmond police officers watched from across the street, eventually blocking off a lane of traffic to allow the protesters more room.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: The steps of the courthouse were completely filled with protesters and they spilled into the street. The light was fading fast when I spotted Nolan. I used an 80-200 mm lens at its maximum with a 2.8 aperture to get this image.

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Vietnam veteran Jeff Talley on Broad Street in March 2009. He told Style: “One day after a night of drinking, I woke up and didn’t recognize where I was. That’s when I heard the low audible voice. That’s God. He said go to the sound. I ended up near St. Joseph’s Villa. I found a pay phone and called 911. The operator said help is coming. The cop put me in the front seat of the car. I hadn’t had a bath in a month. He took me to Richmond Outreach Center in Midlothian. I had been drinking every day for two and a half years and he saved my life. Now I am a straight-up, God-fearing man. I know God is coming. The Bible says like a thief in the night. I just hope he gets here soon.”

PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: Talley was not only a great subject visually but was full of beautiful quotes about his life. We spent about three hours together on a chilly March morning before I asked him to stand for a portrait. The sun was out so I asked him to stand in a narrow alley on Broad Street to avoid the harsh light. I have always loved the vulnerable look in his eyes, the American flag patch and his goatee that sweeps to the left. This image won first place in the Virginia Press Association’s portrait category.

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Allan Melton, 9, cries during a vigil for his father and uncle who were murdered in a double homicide on May 28, 2006 in Church Hill. Several children were in the house when the men were shot; 78 people were murdered in Richmond
in 2006.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: The image was named the best news photo in the state of Virginia in 2006 by the Virginia News Photographer’s Association. I had always hoped an image this powerful would bring about change. But 16 years later, nothing much has changed in Richmond in regard to gun violence. Scenes like this are still commonplace at murder vigils in Richmond.

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The River City Magnolias performed at the Festival of the River on Brown’s Island on June 9, 2018.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: I intentionally left my regular camera gear at home so I could attend the event with my wife and daughter. However, when I saw the Magnolias lined up watching other performers, I couldn’t resist using my iPhone to make this image, which fell neatly together with matching swimsuits, sunglasses and yellow swim caps set against the red tents as they watched ballerinas dance on steps above me.

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Jermoine Royster, 11, stands in a boxing ring in an abandoned elementary school on the city’s North Side in 2012.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: Jermoine was one of the friendliest kids I’d met in a while. He always seemed to be smiling, so I knew he would be a good subject for a portrait. I lit him with a portable light kit to make the image dramatic. But Jermoine would start giggling between shots. Afterward, he shook my hand and asked, “How’d we do, Mr. Scott?” Royster, now 21, boxes as a pro, after a 90-14 amateur record.

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Virginia Capitol police arrest Camille Rudney and her sister Sarah Rudney on the steps of the Virginia State Capitol during a women’s rights protest on March 3, 2012. Thirty-one people in total were arrested.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: In 2012, Style named the women’s rights activists as Richmonders of the Year. Style’s News editor Scott Bass wrote in the Jan. 1, 2013 issue: “ The images are difficult to shake. In an otherwise quiet and apathetic city, on a mild and overcast Saturday afternoon, state troopers wearing riot gear — helmets, body armor, shields and assault rifles — drag more than two dozen women and men from the steps of the State Capitol. That women’s rights demonstration on March 3, a protest of General Assembly overreach, led to 30 arrests and troubling déjà vu, conjuring Vietnam marches and civil rights rallies of bygone eras. The photos seem eerily out of context. Could this really be Richmond, circa 2012”?






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