Before we launch into a year of new possibilities, I’d like to take a quick peak in the rear view mirror at a few of my 2016 photos that had the biggest impact. I factored in social media response, print sales, and my own personal satisfaction with the images to compile this little list.
For a selection of prints of the following photos, visit MY ONLINE PRINT SHOP, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for signed prints.
I waited the better part of two decades for the chance to return to the medieval abbey and small island fortress community of Le Mont Saint-Michel. In July, I finally made it there. It took crossing an ocean, hiking two miles, wading through knee-deep clay, and outrunning one of the fastest rising tides on the planet, but here it is. This is the shot I’ve been chasing since I first picked up a camera.
At high tide, the abbey, the community below, and their fortress walls become an island. The abbey and its wall were built in the 8th Century AD to defend against Viking raiders and were never conquered, not even by a full-scale English invasion in the year 1433.
Fellow photographer Aaron Moshier and I pulled off the impractical one weekend in February. Less than twenty-four hours after resigning ourselves to the fact that we would probably never get our own “Fire Fall” shots of Horsetail Falls, since it was the last day of its annual occurrence and the recent drought makes it rarer than ever, we drove six hours north and narrowly caught the five-minute event. Shortly thereafter, the Green Weenie struck and we were called upon to drive right back that night.
I’m pretty sure it was the shortest Yosemite trip on record, but taking such a gamble and pulling it off with one of my best friends gives this shot a rich backstory that goes beyond the already spectacular and rare natural phenomenon.
Southern Louisiana saw historic flooding in the month of August. It was referred to by many as a “One in a Millennium Storm.” The culture of the Cajun people in Southern Louisiana is one of resilience, courage, and community. Almost immediately, groups of volunteer rescuers in personal boats of all shapes and sizes, known as the “Cajun Navy,” materialized and grew to a fleet of hundreds. Throughout the storm, volunteers came from all over Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas to reach stranded flood victims in the Baton Rouge area. For over a week, volunteers coordinated their efforts through mobile apps and social media, manifesting a command structure and communication channels. More importantly, they inspired millions across the country during a period of chaos that went largely under-reported for the better part of a week.
This shot of mine, among several others, was used by several nationwide media outlets to illustrate both the destruction and the rescue efforts.
The Retirement of Master Sergeant Jeffrey Peeler, USMC, Marine Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California
I had the honor of documenting the retirement of a long-time Marine tanker Master Sergeant Jeffrey Peeler in January. In this photo, we can see the bittersweet expression of a great man shedding a noble burden that has ingrained itself in his soul. MSgt Peeler retired after more than two decades of devotion to the “iron monsters” of the tanker community.
He faced his retiring officer, saluted and asked,
“Permission to go ashore, Sir.”
In May, I ran my final live fire range as a Marine Corps Officer. We spent a few days training the Marines on the AT-4 rocket and the M67 grenade. I couldn’t really pick up the camera during the conduct of the rocket range, but that soft desert light I had grown to love appeared once the range was cold and the sun started to sink low on the horizon. The Marines and I loved this, my final shot as a Marine, and it still hangs in the office where we once worked side by side, or so I’m told.
Shay Childress, a frequent resident of “The Slabs” transient community in the desert near the Salton Sea, California
I spent a few hours in the shanty desert settlement of Slab City in April, where several dozen transient souls come and go in the remote wasteland. Some stay for a week, some stay forever. A supply of fresh water is never a guarantee from day to day, but the most valuable commodity is companionship. I shot this image during the Palm Springs Photo Festival, where I studied under renowned photojournalist David Burnett.
Two family friends sit at the grave of Marine Lance Cpl. Jason D. Hill, Age 20, at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California
Over Memorial Day Weekend in May, I was part of a large group of Marine Officers who rented a San Diego beach house to blow off some steam over the long weekend. After the partying subsided and we checked out of the house on Monday, I wandered around the Point Loma peninsula one last time. I came upon Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery on Memorial Day, of all days. I parked my truck and began wandering across the peaceful and arresting expanse of the grounds when I came upon one headstone, in particular.
My generation grew up in the Global War on Terror and I thought this scene embodied that. The grave of LCpl Jason Hill was not an old grave, overgrown with ivy and marked by a weathered inscription. He and I were born less than two years apart. His death is not ancient history, and the deaths of Marines like him are still current events. I saw several people taking their time to pay their respects to Jason throughout the day, as if they were observing a vigil in shifts. The sun was sinking closer to the Pacific horizon and I knew this would be a shot that encapsulated everything I wanted to say. When I this brother and sister if I would be intruding by taking their photo, the young woman responded,
“That’s okay, we don’t mind. I’m a photographer, too.”
This iconic landmark needs no introduction, of course, but this isn’t exactly a typical angle of it. The Champ de Mars that surrounds the Eiffel Tower was completely fenced off due to the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament in July, denying me of my initial idea of a wide, sweeping shot of the grounds. With the fences and crowds to contend with, I reimagined what I wanted to do and went with this perspective. After a few minutes and minor adjustments for precise symmetry, I came away with a shot that I loved, and was the first social media splash of my European photo project.
I regard Spanish bullfighting as a largely misunderstood sport. I, too, was skeptical of it in a certain sense until I witnessed an evening of toros and matadors for myself. The core of the sport is harvesting beef for the festival. As a simple matter of fact, the vast majority of bulls born into an agricultural cattle enterprise will only live long enough to be slaughtered for their meat. The origin of this controversial sport is quite simply a test of will and nerve to see who can face these bulls on their own and harvest their meat in the most daring way.
When I posted this image to my social media platforms, it was met with both praise and controversy. As a photojournalist, I offer this image to you as a statement of what exists in this wide world of ours. Derive from it whatever meaning you wish.
While I love the chaos of photojournalism, there’s a lot to be said for the deliberate and calculated art of composing and exposing at night. I made it a point to do some long exposure photography in the medieval Belgian city of Bruges.
Cobblestoned streets, ornate spires, incredible beer, and disarming chocolates make for one special city.
A teenage Dubliner plays daredevil with his mates by doing aerial tricks off of bridges and into the River Liffey
In late July, I came across a Dublin tradition that dates back decades. On sunny days, small groups of teenage boys don wet suits and dive from the city’s bridges into the River Liffey. Many older Dubliners reminisce and say this practice was vital to forging friendships during the most formative years of their lives.
I kept my head on a swivel when driving across Ireland in July. I happened to be driving along the coast between Letterkenny and Galway when I saw Classiebawn Castle in the distance and decided to take a detour to try and find a place to shoot it with the rocky shores in the shot. It took some maneuvering and a conversation with a charming local, but I found just the frame I was looking for. It was a misty morning, so I had my work cut out for me keeping my lenses dry, but the effort was well worth it in the end.
Spending my July in Ireland was rewarding in countless ways. As a teenager, I took an interest in traditional Irish folk music (Trad). When I landed in Dublin, I made it a personal goal to seek out the best Trad in each city in the hopes of coming away with some special images. I finally achieved that goal in the town of Killarney, where I spent the evening with some new Dutch friends and a Guinness pint or three.
In August, shortly after covering the amazing efforts of the Cajun Navy, it came time to hop on my flight to Northern New York to shoot the wedding of one of my Armor Basic Officer Leaders Course classmates and his bride Gabby. I spent the weekend getting to know their families and friends, who were more than hospitable to me. The bay made for a stunning backdrop as they said, “I do,” and this shot made the rounds on some of my wedding photography online communities and was met with a warm reception.
A simple and elegant portrait of model Rachel Hendrix in the window light of Joshua Tree Saloon, California
I met with amateur model and Tennessee transplant Rachel Hendrix in late August, a few days before our shoot together, which would be my final model shoot in the California Desert before relocating to New Orleans. As we talked about what concepts we wanted to pursue with our shoot and how we would approach it creatively, I noticed a perfect patch of threshold light coming from one of the front windows next to the pool table. Since I almost always have my Sony RX1-R II handy and ready, I invited her to sit for a portrait so we could use this great light and get acquainted to each other on either side of the lens. What we created became one of my favorite portraits I had ever taken, conjuring up imagery with soft light, deep shadow, and simplicity.
In early September, I shot my final model shoot in California before relocating to New Orleans. Rachel, from the previous photo, wore a vibrant red dress, which we showed off for the vast majority of the shoot. I couldn’t resist, though, composing this silhouette as the sun sank below the horizon and blasted the sky with orange and deep purple. This shot took several takes to master, as I directed Rachel to make minor adjustments with her pose to get a clean outline of her chin and face against the sky.
I shot my first model shoot as a New Orleans resident in my studio before the moving company had even arrived with the majority of my household goods. Amanda and I attended college together at LSU and even spent a few years as coworkers in the climbing gym. More than anything, I used this as a test shoot for my new space to see if we could create. At precisely 4:36 pm I noticed the sun coming through one of the windows, creating a pool of light on the floor. I pulled the mesh shade down to soften the light and posed Amanda so that her whole body was in the light. The light then left as quickly as it came, but it was long enough. Now I count on that brilliant, unique light showing up for each studio shoot.
Well, there you have it, folks. We’ve put another year in the books and, photographically speaking, it was a stunner. I look forward to next December when I’ll sit down and write about 2017, including my upcoming trip to Iceland and possibly the UAE, New Zealand, and Tanzania.
You can get your hands on several of the above images in MY ONLINE PRINT STORE. For signed prints, email me at email@example.com.
Cheers to the New Year,
Follow Noel’s photography on Facebook
Follow Noel’s photography on Instagram