On July 20, 2018, Zachary Sutterfield, 21, jumped out of a window when a fire broke out at Iconic Village Apartments in San Marcos. The fire, believed to be arson, killed five people, including two of his roommates. The flames burned 70% of his body, and the impact of the fall caused a traumatic brain injury. A year later, Sutterfield has undergone 24 operations. I didn't know what to expect when I was sent to this assignment. I was told I may or may not get an opportunity to photograph him. I knew very little about him or the trauma he faced. I was taken aback by his strength and how he carried himself. After he talked about loving himself and his skin again, I knew I had to try to compose an image that showed just that. So, I asked him if he'd be comfortable taking his shirt off for the portrait. I regretted asking immediately, thinking I might have offended him, but his reaction was just the opposite. That portrait session with Zach I will never forget. [BRONTE WITTPENN/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
Natalie Hernandez, 18, holds a sign that reads “gentrification and AISD working hand in hand” during a protest Oct. 2 against school closures outside of Martin Middle School. Hernandez's family has been living on Austin's east side for nearly 60 years. While district officials have said the schools are under-enrolled and too costly to maintain, many affected families say they believe the district’s plan unfairly targets their communities of color, ignores their concerns and fails to acknowledge institutionally racist practices that have led to the problems at those schools. This was a really challenging event to shoot. I struggled to make a good frame with the light being so inconsistent. What I really value about this profession is that it forces you to think on your feet and make a picture despite the elements. In this frame, I used Natalie's sign to light her face. I think it's a striking image with a powerful statement. I'm proud that I was able to see that opportunity rather than be frustrated with the light and call it a day. [BRONTE WITTPENN/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
Dorothy McPhaul, 86, looks out the front door of her store, Johnnie's Antiques and Collectibles on East Sixth Street, on May 16. Having spent most of her childhood in antique stores, McPhaul eventually inherited the store from her mother and her auntie. The story of Dorothy and her antique shop is one of the most important stories I've worked on since coming to the Statesman. Her story is just one example of how Austin's rapid changes are reshaping neighborhoods in the city's east side and impacting residents who have lived there for generations. Even though she thinks the city of Austin has forgotten her, she continues to serve her community with a big heart. She is always looking toward the future and working hard for her loved ones. Just being around Dorothy and photographing her made me think a lot about what legacy I want to leave for my family or impression I want to leave on my community. I think we could all learn something from Dorothy, I know I did. [BRONTE WITTPENN/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
Louise Morse, 93, sits for a portrait May 15 at Westlake United Methodist Church. Morse decided to come out to her church as a gay woman with the help of the church's pastor, Tracy Beadle, and church member Marina Sifuentes. When I first started photographing professionally I was really uncomfortable taking people's portraits. The one-on-one really intimidated me. At first, Louise really intimidated me. She is the definition of a tough as nails Texas woman and she did not want to be followed around by a stranger with a camera. I was challenged to find a way to break down the walls she had with me. It's funny looking back at the first frames I took of her to see how uncomfortable she was. I was uncomfortable, too. Now, when I look at this picture I see a breakthrough for both of us. For her, it was finding that confidence to tell her story and see a peaceful future after a hurtful past. I think you can see that in her eyes. [BRONTE WITTPENN/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
A woman dressed in traditional clothing twirls her skirt Oct. 26 during the Mexic-Arte Museum's 36th Annual Viva La Vida Festival and Parade. I was on my way back to the office when I heard the sound of a marching band several blocks away. I had been covering the Texas Book Festival and another assignment before that, so I was ready to turn in my photos and call it a day. I went back and forth on whether I should investigate what the music was all about. I chose against it and started driving to the office when I saw people with faces painted like sugar skulls. Quickly, I found a place to park, jumped out and jumped right into the Dia De Los Muertos parade. I was able to make some beautiful frames, including this one, which is my favorite. I learned that when my need to picture hunt is tugging at me, it always pays off to embrace that need rather than to turn it away. [BRONTE WITTPENN/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
The story of Dorothy and her antique shop is one of the most important stories I've worked on since coming to the Statesman. Her story is just one testament about how Austin's rapid changes are reshaping neighborhoods in the city's east side and impacting its residents that have lived there for generations. Even though she thinks the city of Austin has forgotten her, she continues to serve her community with such a big heart. She is always looking toward the future and working hard for her loved ones. Just being around Dorothy and photographing her has made me think a lot about what legacy I want to leave for my family or impression I want to leave on my community. I think we could all learn something from Dorothy, I know I did.
This video represents the most fun I've had putting a video piece together in awhile. I've wanted to make music videos ever since I was young and I felt I was making little me proud. It was so fun to film this piece in the warehouse of the Statesman too. The best part of this whole process was getting to know the b-boys and especially B-Boy City founder Romeo Navarro. I spent a lot of time with him and really got to know who he was and what drives him. He literally works day and night for his community by being active with the younger generations and being a firefighter for the city of Austin. Meeting people like him is no doubt the best part of my job.