Photographers' Blog

Satan and the partying bunnies

By Lucy Nicholson

For those who have a dark view of Southern California, it might seem fitting to find Satan buried in a cemetery in Orange County next to a Carl’s Jr burger joint.

That’s where I found him resting on another heavenly day in sunny California, in between gravestones for other beloved pets that had departed for the great beyond.

The Sea Breeze Pet Cemetery in Huntington Beach has gone to the dogs. And cats. And bunnies. And guinea pigs. And parrots.

I was driving to lunch between assignments photographing Olympic swimming champ Janet Evans when a flash of color caught my eye on a wide boulevard in Huntington Beach. It wasn’t the gaudy color of strip malls and billboards, but an expanse of flowers in a cemetery.

I’d never seen a graveyard quite so full of bouquets. I was curious who was so missed that they inspired this scale of affection and remembrance. The first sign that this was not your ordinary graveyard was just inside the entrance. A statue of a pug stood over a headstone.

An American homeless family

By Lucy Nicholson

On her second day of camping near the coast north of Los Angeles, Benita Guzman lit a match, threw it on a pile of logs, and poured gasoline on top. As flames engulfed her hand and foot, her niece, Angelica Cervantes, rushed to throw sand over her. Benita thrust her burning hand into a pile of mud, and took a deep breath.

Camping’s not easy. It’s a whole lot rougher when you’re a pair of homeless single mothers trying to keep seven children fed, clothed, washed and in school.

Guzman, 40, and two of her children are living outdoors with Cervantes, 36, and five of her children. The two banded together in an effort to keep the children together as a family, and not taken away and separated in foster homes.

Drive-thru funeral parlor

By Lucy Nicholson

Nina Watson maneuvered her silver Cadillac into the drive-thru and pulled up to a big plate glass window.

She stopped and rolled down the passenger window so her mother, Flo Watson, could get a better look at the lifeless body of her late co-worker, Robert Sanders, who lay in a casket behind the glass.

Nina stepped out to snap a cell phone photo. Then she settled back in the driver seat, and put her foot to the pedal.

Super Bowl Redux

By Lucy Nicholson

Celtics v Lakers, Borg v McEnroe, India v Pakistan, Ali v Frazier, Red Sox v Yankees

There are sports matches and there are match-ups that up the ante because of a bitter rivalry.

There’s nothing fiercer than a Boston-New York contest.

For decades, Boston played the underdog while the ghost of Babe Ruth conspired with latter day Big Apple legends like Bucky Dent and Mookie Wilson to leave New England in tears.

Hope Gardens

By Lucy Nicholson

Lilly Earp changes the diaper on her 5-week-old baby sister Emily with the confidence another child would have cradling a doll. She’s only 8, but she already shows the street smarts of an older child as she helps her mother. It helps to be resourceful when you’re homeless.

Her mother, Doreen Earp, 38, who is originally from Germany, and her three children ended up on the street after her relationship with Emily’s father fell apart. They stayed in a hotel for a month, then with people from their church and eventually ended up with no roof over their heads.

Today, they’re lucky to be among the 150 or so other homeless women and children living at Hope Gardens on the outskirts of LA. It’s a place where those at the end of the line are given a life line. The shelter for families is an oasis compared to where most of LA’s massive street population lives on a grim patch of downtown’s Skid Row. While homeless services are concentrated downtown, it’s no place for a child.

The struggles of a gay military family

The United States became the 23rd of 26 NATO countries to allow military service by openly gay people last week. An estimated 66,000 lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are serving in the U.S. military, according to a recent study by UCLA’s Williams Institute. Many are still afraid to come out. I visited a gay military family to hear the story they are now able to tell.

By Lucy Nicholson

A week ago, Luz Bautista, 30, and her fiancée Alejandra Schwartz, 24, both Navy petty officers, were celebrating the end of the U.S. ban on openly gay service members.

This week, they’re being forced to live apart.

Bautista headed to Illinois Monday, away from Schwartz and their daughter Destiny, 6, for a three year posting that could be extended.

Ping Pong Therapy

Holocaust survivor Betty Stein, 92, takes off her cardigan. She squares up to the table, bat in hand, deep in concentration. Her eyes dart rhythmically in time with the clack, clack of the ping pong ball.

At the next table, Eli Boyer, 91, sings a love song in Spanish as he plays. The retired accountant speaks four languages, and flits between Russian and English with his coach Elie Zainabudinova. As long as the ping pong ball ricochets back and forth, their absorption is total. Flashes of their former lives creep across their faces – laughter, determination, a mischievous grin.

Only when they sit down do their eyes give it away. The tell-tale existential terror of Alzheimer’s. The confusion. The forgetting of who they are.

My day in a California prison

The first inkling I had that it wasn’t going to be an ordinary day at work was the dress code; no tight or revealing clothing, no blue jeans, no blue shirts, no orange clothing, no jewelry, no cell phones.

For the first time, I thought of the possible mental state of the people I was visiting, and how little some of them would have to lose.

I had been in a car crash (not serious) the day before. I wasn’t expecting anything bad to happen to me inside the prison. But imagined that if it did it would be much the same kind of sudden violence coming out of nowhere.

Surf therapy

Matthew Doyle grew up by the beach in Santa Monica, California, and with his slim physique and tattooed forearms, looks as if he’s been surfing his whole life.

But it took three tours of duty half a world away, many sleepless nights, and meeting a woman named Carly before the 26-year-old U.S. Army veteran braved the waves on a surfboard.

On a recent Saturday, I met Doyle and a group of 11 other young military veterans trying to overcome the horrors of war at Manhattan Beach, just south of Los Angeles, where occupational therapist Carly Rogers led them in a surf therapy class.

School on Wheels

In a corner of Western Avenue Elementary School’s yard, a dozen children excitedly circle Charles Evans at the end of their day.

Regional coordinator Charles Evans (C) picks up children from school to take them to an after-school program at South Los Angeles Learning Center in Los Angeles, California March 16, 2011. The center is run by School on Wheels, which uses volunteers to tutor homeless children in shelters, parks, motels, and two centers. There has been a surge in the number of homeless children in Los Angeles in the last five years, due to persistent unemployment and mounting foreclosures. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

One child bounces a ball, another picks a handful of play slime out of a jar as the others chirp with enthusiasm.

While other children have gone home for the day, Evans rounds up this group who have no homes. He leads them down the street to South Los Angeles Learning Center, where he runs an after-school program for homeless children.