This year started out as any normal year for me as a photojournalist here at The Times, but by April it was a totally different experience.
As schools and businesses closed, neighborhoods seemed empty and roads were almost empty of traffic, but reporters and myself had a duty to continue to go out and collect information and document what was happening while maintaining safety at all times.
This totally changed the way I am used to working since I usually need to be up close and in contact with people. It's been a year on the job I will never forget.
The following are a few of my favorite images from the year.
Spelling bees can usually be a source of good photos as youngsters contort their faces in strange expressions as they concentrate on their spelling.
This one in January, the Gainesville City Schools District Spelling Bee, had a very spontaneous Eleanor Mbigi, a fourth grader at New Holland Knowledge Academy, hug winner Maddux Rifenburg, a fourth grader at Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy, after he spelled the winning word “hunky-dory.” It happened fast and seemed to really surprise Rifenburg, who did not have time to hug back as he was already stunned at winning.
What I like about the photo is the genuine expression of happiness on Mbigi's face as she gives Rifenburg a good squeeze.
In April, World War II veteran Tom Henderson celebrated his 100th birthday. The Smoky Springs retirement community resident was of course in quarantine and could not take any visitors into his home, so family and members of Northlake Baptist Church gathered outside his apartment and sang a chorus of “Happy Birthday,” as well as his favorite hymn, "Victory in Jesus."
They held signs and waved from about 20 yards away causing tears to well up in his eyes as he watched without being able to join them. Despite the smile on his face, I see the sadness in the watery eyes of Henderson. There were other images of him laughing and singing along, but this frame had a melancholy feel.
The Newtown Florist Club's candlelight vigil in June brought together community members to remember those who have lost their lives in incidents with police.
After days of protests in town, which were relatively tame, the candlelight vigil seemed exactly what was needed to gain perspective. Everyone was masked up in the heat of the evening and spread out the best they could listening to songs, performances and testimonies. When the candles were lit, the photo worked perfectly.
As a photojournalist you have to be working and shooting during the silence, and it feels strange doing so. This silence was for eight minutes and 46 seconds as was the time George Floyd was held down by the knee of a police officer.
In the middle of a terrible pandemic 2020 summer, I was assigned to shoot photos of boxer Tim Hall as he worked out at The Beast Sports Center in Gainesville. It was a fun shoot as it had nothing to do with COVID-19 except that I had to go inside a gym where no one but me was masked up, but the gym was spacious and not all that busy at that time of day.
Hall was a complete gentleman and allowed me total access as he warmed up, sparred a bit in the ring and then worked the heavy bag. This guy's hands are fast.
He also made time to sit down for a few portraits. The shoot yielded many good photos.
Graduations this year were unlike any that have ever been, with ceremonies held in parking lots and driveways of schools as the pandemic raged throughout the spring.
All the photos at each school were unique, but the photo of this family on the back of a work truck participating in the ceremony struck me as the perfect example of a typical 2020 high school graduation where everyone was improvising everything.