I was with my wife, niece and 10-year-old daughter during the Women’s March in Santa Rosa, California along with millions of others across the world. Local news said over 5,000 attended in Santa Rosa. Here are a few moments for that rainy day.
These are a few images from my shoot for Leafly, an online resource for news and information about cannabis. I photographed a popular cannabis festival known as The Emerald Cup in Santa Rosa, California. State voters just passed a ballot measure legalizing recreational use of marijuana and there was plenty on hand to sample at this event.
Over the Fall I photographed winemakers and their staff during the process after harvest when the grapes come into their warehouses. This shoot was for Sonoma Magazine with the photo editor saying “Just have fun with it.” The idea was to show some of the physical contact that goes on during the winemaking process. I focused on winemakers that produce in small quantities. Here’s a shot of employee Samantha Pelham cleaning out a fermentation tank at Wind Gap Wines in Sebastopol, California.
This was a big year for the HARVESTER project. The NY Times did a online piece on the project just as the HARVESTER exhibition was going on at Christie Marks Gallery in Santa Rosa. I came across many gallery visitors with tears in their eyes showing me that even though presidential elections brought out some fiercely ugly language against immigrants coming into the US, there are still many people who have kept their humanity. Sonoma Magazine put the face of Fernando Perez, 50, from Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico on the cover and I did manage to find Fernando to hand him a copy of the magazine. I’ll be photographing again during harvest 2017 with a book in the future.
Not everyday I can ask a stranger, “Hey, can I take your picture to put in a museum that’s just down the road?” But that’s exactly what I did for Sonoma Valley Museum of Art. The museum asked that I capture 50 portraits of the first 50 people to agree to be photographed at a shopping center in Sonoma, California. Above are some of the incredible faces I found on that cold, rainy Monday morning.
I never lived in a fire zone since working as a news photographer until moving to Northern California where fires seem to come more often than rain. So I wasn’t surprised to get a call on a recent Sunday morning from The Press Democrat assigning me to photograph what would be one of the worst days of the recent Clayton Fire that scorched through downtown Lower Lake, California. I hadn’t worked a fire before, so I had to pick up fire-protective clothing, a helmet, goggles and an emergency fire shield from the newspaper. They have a senior photographer Kent Porter who’s a real pro at fire coverage and he gave me good advice. Brings lots of drinking water he said, which I did; along with a couple of peanut butter sandwiches.
When I arrived I was driven by fire officials and State Senator Mike McGuire into the fire zone. I wasn’t crazy about spending time with the officials, I wanted to roam on my own, but I took their offer because I felt unprepared and I thought they could help me wrap my head around what this fire was all about. They took me to this view (above). A view that normally looks peaceful and quiet looked dystopian to me on that morning. I had a feeling I was in for a very long day. I should have brought more sandwiches I remember thinking.
The first thing that caught my eye was seeing wild life like this deer (above) racing around. They appeared to have no idea of which way to run and throughout the day I often felt the same way. After I took this shot, the smoke quickly shifted and I couldn’t see my parked car idling by the side of the road. I asked a firefighter if he thought the fire would cross the road and he said, “If I were you, I’d figure out some way to run through that smoke and find your car if you ever want to see it again.” So I did just that. I ran blindly down the side of Morgan Valley Road with my t-shirt covering my nose and mouth until finally the smoke thinned out and I could see my blue Honda CRV with the engine still running and the AC on.
No doubt I did my best to show fire fighters battling this blaze, but what felt most important was showing ordinary people and finding a way to convey their feelings about the possibility of losing everything or of the reality that they would be returning to a town that would never be the same. This woman (above) named Phaedra was set on staying put. She had about a dozen farm animals and told me she just couldn’t leave them. She put it in simple terms, “This is my home and I can’t just walk away,” she said, then began to cry.
Later in the afternoon I drove to downtown Lower Lake to essentially photograph it while portions of it burned down. Helicopters were hovering low and dropping loads of water on Main Street when I met the Watson family attempting to get their wheelchair-bound family member into a pickup truck. They made a great effort, but after a few minutes I had the feeling they were failing at the task, so I dropped my cameras and put the woman in the car myself. I had a professor at UT Austin tell me once that sometimes you have to be a human first, then a photojournalist second. I had that thought in my mind during this shot (above). I also thought the scared dog was going to bite me.
As the sun set, I took these 3 images (above) on Lake Street just off Main Street in Lower Lake. It looked like a bomb had landed. Power lines were strewn everywhere. I was told they were dead lines, but it was still unnerving to crawl underneath them to get these photos. I met Nick Griffen (above) when I started walking down this street. He came running at me telling me this incredible story of how he saved his neighbor’s house with his garden hose. He looked exhausted from the adrenaline rush of his fire fight, but he also seemed relieved to be telling his story to a stranger. I did that a lot that day, just listened to people vent or tell me their grievances or sometimes I just stood quietly with them like I did when James Anthony (below) told me he had just moved to this town 8 months ago and now his house was essentially ashes. I gave the Press Democrat Nick’s cell number to interview him about his story of battling the fire, but my editor said he never answered his phone. Who does answer their phone anymore I thought?
I photographed from about 11am until around 10pm, then filed my final photos from my car. Everything I had, my cameras, my clothes, my leftover pieces of food, reeked of smoke and my car was covered in small dots of pink fire retardant. It had been parked on Main Street most of the day. I learned a lot that day. A ton of things I’d do different next time. This job is always a work in progress. I also appreciated my colleagues a bit more, especially PD writer Christi Warren for bringing me a few bottles of waters late in the day when my supply ran out.
I felt like things were a little over my head in the morning, but by dusk and as I drove back to Santa Rosa late in the evening I felt like a different photographer after that experience; perhaps a little wiser. In the end, I kept wondering how fire fighters can stand it. Not so much the smell, or even the heat, but the idea of breathing in burning trees, melting cars or flame-engulfed buildings all day, day after day. That’s the part that stuck with me. The way a massive fire feels like it covers your whole body inside and out.
-Erik Castro, Aug. 26, 2016
I started this project during summer and fall of 2015. The idea was simple. Photograph grape harvest workers the moment after they finish up a days work in the vineyards. I wanted their faces to be the narrative. Just faces after work.
I’ll be back in the vineyards again this year to keep finding faces to tell more of the story and eventually making their way into a book.
I’m showing 17 large prints from the HARVESTER project at Christie Marks Fine Art Gallery in Santa Rosa, California from August 5 to September 17. For more info: http://christiemarksfineart.com/event/79705/harvester-a-photo-series-by-erik-castro
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/166591315″>Something Better – a short film for SAY</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/erikcastro”>erik castro | photojournalist</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
Hope you take the time to watch this short film. I’m very proud of the work and the stories that are told in this piece.
SAY, or Social Advocates for Youth, the non-profit that helps homeless & troubled youth has got to be the absolute coolest non-profit to work for. I’ve been making short films for them for a few years now and like this new one, Something Better, the films are basically snapshots into the lives of young people the organization is trying to help. This time we see two young working people: Naomi Lane and Cameron Vadnais. Naomi is working her day job at the Dream Center, a new center for helping troubled youth in Santa Rosa, and we follow Cameron on a recent job hunt. There’s a third subject, Kerry Rego, who tells an incredibly personal story of needing SAY’s help 20 years ago when she was a high school teen dealing with an abusive boyfriend.
Many people deserve thanks for their help in making this piece. Naomi, Cameron and Kerry were very generous with their time, emotions and thoughts. My 14-year-old neighbor Quincy Allen did an amazing acting job in Kerry Rego’s story and my nephew Vasco Cesaretti added his infectiously entertaining music. I also have to thank Cat Cvengros, SAY’s Director of Development, for her great advice while I worked on this project and for her support of what I do as a story teller.
-May 14, 2016
It’s been mix of work all year so far, and enjoying it; photos for newsprint, non-profits and personal projects along with video projects.
My kids got sick. So, we were home a lot. We made movies to pass the time. We did this space movie trailer using a glass salad bowl and a $2 dollar psychedelic light. My son played the astronaut, my daughter did the space center voice and I got to film it.
I don’t use lights often, but I always have fun with them when I do. A shot of beer maker Nile Zacherle for the SF Chronicle. I though he looked a little like Anthony Perkins in this shot.Been missing my mother since her death last year. This was a shot my daughter found while fishing through old family photos. Its a shot of my mom arriving at our home during the weekend of my son’s baptism. She would have killed me if I hadn’t baptized him. That’s his head at the bottom of the frame.
These 2 are from a trip to Los Angeles. Been needing to go back more. My head gets foggy if I’m in Sonoma County too long. Sometimes just need freeways and time with my sisters. My son playing basketball and my daughter playing on a handball court.Wish I could use my phone more for my news assignment work. Here’s a recent one from a nature walk near Sebastopol with my daughter.
Easy going and very accommodating DJ Sykwidit in downtown Santa Rosa. He basically let me crawl around wherever I wanted to show what he loves to do.