The 2015 World Press Photo awards were announced yesterday.

My thoughts though were heavily centered on two absent friends. Anja and Kerim.

We lost them both last year, a matter of days apart.

They were close friends, great competitors, and amazing people. I adored them both, the world misses their vision and spirit. They informed millions through their work.

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Our shared histories were long and rich with a very brief overlap at World Press Photo. Anja served on the 2013 jury with me. Kerim followed me as sports chair in 2014.

World Press Photo competition is very dear to me. It is a contest I’ve judged twice, and it’s one I’ve had good success in as a photographer.

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It is made even more special by the time spent there with these friends. They were both about commitment, dedication, integrity and community. We need much more of all of those things.

The annual Education World Forum began yesterday in London. The conference opened with this film we shot this time last year.

St Elphege’s Roman Catholic Infant and Junior Schools are located about 12 miles south of London. These are neighborhood schools, drawing their pupils from the London Boroughs of Sutton and Croydon. The population of Sutton is approximately 180,000 with 15.2 percent ethnic minority residents. The population of Croydon comprises 363,000 residents with 38.8 percent ethnic minority. Within the school, the proportion of ethnic minority pupils is even higher at more than 70 percent, reflecting the local community. That proportion leads to a richly varied school population, with many different first languages. The diversity provides wonderful opportunities for children to learn first-hand from different cultures, different religions, different traditions and different languages. This short film celebrates that diversity.

Yesterday was Boxing Day. Havana and I were on the bullet train bound for Osaka. We blasted past Mount Fuji.

It seems like just yesterday when she was born. One of my favorite and most important of the more than 10 million images I’ve made in my career happened right after she appeared.

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Now her 14th birthday is right around the corner.

We’re traveling through one of the places I love most, and a land she’s asked to see for more than a third of her relatively short life. It’s a pleasure share with her.

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She’s learning again how important friends are. Our first day here two friends, Karou and Rie, took time led us through Harajuku and Roppingi Hills, giving generously of their time and consideration.

Two days ago, Christmas day, Gen broke away from work and took us through the city on an itinerary he created for Havana. He’s my favorite creative director and one I’ve worked with on four continents over the years. Talking with him always makes me quite reflective and introspective. The twinkle in his eyes always brings a slow smile.

Watching Havana navigate a foreign land is fun. When she took her first step, I was in the room.

Her first day of school I delivered her, wide eyed and excited. John Hiatt’s “Circle Back” playing premonitionly on the sound system in the car. I remember thinking that the things he referenced would all happen, I just thought it would happen slower.

Which circles back to this trip.  I’m on the road, a lot by anyone’s standards. When I’m home, we go for long walks and talk about our worlds.

One of the people I turn to regularly for advice counsels me that my world is vast — as is her’s — and that changes perspective, and that I especially need to pay attention to that while I am working and teaching.

I’ve always been on the road — I was 14 the first time I visited Europe and the Middle East. Pretty exotic for a kid from rural Nebraska.  I was hooked immediately.

Havana got a much earlier start, and I think she’ll be on the move for a long time too. She was on planes regularly hopscotching the country before she started preschool. She’s spent time in Paris, Zurich, Istanbul and Tokyo. She speaks regularly with friends living in Europe.  I envy her future.

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I learn a lot about communicating from her.

It helps me refine my message — something that’s fairly critical to a storyteller.

Directly and indirectly we talk about what’s important information and what’s not.  How delivery is key.  Fast is crucial. Directness is extremely important. Subtly not so much.

She’s an analog girl connected digitally to the world. She reads 1,000′s of pages a week of properly printed materials, makes her own greeting and holiday cards with ink and paper, and yet she lives attached to her electronic umbilical cord — her iPhone is never far from her grasp.

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It’s that combination of near and far, new and old, fast and slow that I’m reaching for.

Amy Sandeen I were standing on a glacier in Iceland and I looked her and said do you know where we need to go?  Sutton, Nebraska.  

She smiled and said, of course we do.

A few weeks later we were walking into Browns ThrifStore.  More than fifty years ago my grandfather Adolph Roemmich would take my hand and walk me three LONG blocks from his house to Sutton’s main street.  We’d go to Browns.  For chocolate clusters and pickles.  And to look at the magazine rack just inside the front door right next to the cash registers.

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He’d show me Life, Time, Sports Illustrated.  It was my window on the world outside rural Nebraska. Big bold beautiful images crafted by the best photographers working. What a life they must have had.  Real life Walter Mitty’s.  I saw things I’d never seen before presented by people who knew how to observe.  .

I would spend hours looking at those publications—and the man running the store took pity on me, at my age, I couldn’t afford any of those glorious glossies, so he let me treat his store like a library.

So on a lovely late September afternoon this year I went in to pick up a coke.   And found my past and my future.  

The chocolate and pickles are still there. So is the magazine rack. Looks about the same, a little the worse from decades of use. There was a tow headed kid standing there looking at an SI. And one of my images was on the cover.  

I grew up in the Panhandle.  The big paper there is the Scottsbluff Star-Herald. As a kid I was a newspaper boy carrying the StarHerald to 100 homes, 6 days a week, for 4 years.   

The Star-Herald would drop a bundle of the papers on my front lawn around 4:30 a.m., and by 5 a.m. I had folded them, put rubber bands around them and packed them into a cloth bag that fit on the handle bars of my bike. My route was 3 1/2 miles long. During the spring, summer and fall it was awesome. Up early, out on my bicycle, throwing things. Best exercise, best time of day, and it paid well. 

It was a wonderful education.

Imagine my delight when the StarHerald devoted a big chunk of their Sunday front page real estate to a story about my nebraskaproject.com.

Yet another nice hug from Nebraska.

Home. 

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After six months of shooting and traveling around the prairie lands, I’m excited to announce the launch of Straw Hat Visuals’ new artistic and storytelling endeavor — The Nebraska Project.

To me, Nebraska is not only my birth place, but a rich terrain for the imagination and the journalist. It is a place of cowboys and poets, buffalo and meadowlarks.

Often overlooked as the middle of nowhere, Nebraska is actually the center of everything, providing sustenance and grit for the country.

Some stories are small, like the 60 year romance between Rodney and Delores, and some are as big as the Nebraska sky itself.
There are many more stories to tell and ways we can together preserve and record the beauty of America’s majestic frontier.
I hope you enjoy our project and learning more about Nebraska – the land and people who make it great.

Copyright © 2015 Straw Hat Visuals Blog.