December 14, 2021 News & Features » Cover Story

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Style Weekly’s Photos of the Year 

Our photographer looks back at thirty of his most indelible images.

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It was another historic year in 2021, or as many of us may remember it, year two of the global pandemic. Who could have imagined the death toll in American lives would be nearing 800,000 by now, greater than the country’s deadliest conflict, the Civil War? And let's not forget about the rest of the planet, who have waited longer for life-saving vaccines. Remember that motif.

Even as we struggled to adapt to our "new normal," a ground-down cliche I could do without ever hearing again, life kept on happening. Each of us dealt with the challenges in our own ways, the rising inflation, raising a family, the changes to work or school environments, while hopefully trying to help someone else out along the way, or lighten their load. Little moments mattered.

At Style, we'll remember 2021 as the first and only time in nearly four decades that our publication was shuttered, for about three months, from Sept. 10 until today, Dec. 14. I won't go into those details here (see my letter to the reader) but we thought it fitting to resume our now online publication with the annual Photos of the Year feature, which traditionally runs in mid-December, as we begin looking back at what just happened.

For the unfamiliar, Style Weekly photojournalist Scott Elmquist is a veteran who's been on the scene for over two decades. He's won countless Best in Show awards from the Virginia Press Association, as well as earning the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s top photographer award for 2019 and 2020, taking home first place honors and beating all weeklies in North America of any circulation size – including cities such as Los Angeles, New York and Austin.

Scott not only has a sharp and compassionate eye for the human center of any story, but he knows how to blend into most environments. I’ve seen it up close many times, whether we were reporting together in the middle of a chaotic rally, a blood-spewing GwarBQ concert, or the quiet living room of a young woman facing terminal illness.

Also he knows when to stand his ground against attempts to manipulate or "manage" the press by individuals or groups who sometimes want control of the story itself. That's a skill rarely taught and more often learned in the trenches. Most importantly, he shows up. Staying in the know and on the go usually leads to him being in the right place at the right time, more often than not.

A longtime chronicler of the devastating effects of gun violence on Richmond's most underserved communities, Scott Elmquist's powerful images, as well as former bound copies of Style Weekly through the years, now reside at the Valentine Museum, where they will eventually be digitized.

I’m very lucky to have him back as we revive Style Weekly — and so are you, Richmond. Here are Scott's selections for his annual Photos of the Year feature, including his own brief comments about the creation of each image. – Brent Baldwin

1: Sept. 8 - The Robert E. Lee statue in the early morning light on removal day.

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Photographer's note: I lucked out and was chosen to be one of the pool photographers for the removal, which meant I was given access to the site. About a dozen members of the media were transported from the State Capitol to the monument, arriving around 8 a.m. As soon as we arrived and hopped out of the van, I saw the dramatic light surrounding the statue. I grabbed my camera and shot above five frames and then the light changed. The silhouetted crane with the hook confirms the inevitable.

Camera: Nikon D850

2: Sept. 8 : Workers remove the 12-ton statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from the pedestal where it had stood since 1890.

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Photographer's note: Operating on two hours sleep, I had just been given notice the day before that Style’s last day of publication would be Sept. 10, and this assignment would be my last for the publication. Adding to the stress, I was covering the event for The Virginian-Pilot. About 10 minutes before I made this image, I was talking to Michael Paul Williams, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist from the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Living up to his reputation as a class act, he had kind and encouraging things to say. Those words helped me focus on the task at hand. When the statue was lifted, I shot several frames with my Nikon and this image with my iPhone, knowing I could send it immediately to the editors of the Pilot and Style.

iPhone 11

3. Sept. 8 : Workers cut Lee from his horse Traveller and lift him to a nearby flat bed truck.

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Photographer’s note: Standing on a nearby flatbed truck gave me a good vantage point to catch the statue as the crane swung the severed Lee statue in front of the pedestal. The worker looking upward adds necessary scale to how massive the statue and pedestal truly are.

4. Aug. 18 : Guitarist Carrie Brownstein high kicks as Sleater-Kinney delivered a blistering set on Brown’s Island.

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Photographer's note: Despite oppressive humidity that had concertgoers passing out, Brownstein kept up the high-energy theatrics for her band’s entire set. Having shots hundreds of shows, I was beyond impressed by Sleater-Kinney. They hadn’t performed in the past two years because of COVID-19 and showed no signs of being rusty.

5. July 7: Rhonda Sneed, co-founder of Camp Cathy, a former tent city for the homeless on Oliver Hill Way, passes out food and clothing to the homeless living at the Coliseum.

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Photographer’s note: Rhonda is a beloved figure in the homeless community and the head of Blessing Warriors RVA Inc. She is a whirlwind of energy, so getting her to stop for a portrait wasn’t easy. I knew the tent and plywood would read as being at the Richmond Coliseum and I like the leading line of the brick wall. She gave me a quick smile, hopped in her vehicle and sped away, with parting words that she was headed to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to distribute more food, if I wanted to tag along.

6: June 27- The Rumble in Richmond happened at Gillies Creek Park. Hundreds of BMXers competed during the Gold Cup Qualifier races. The event was put on by local nonprofit RADshare.

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Photographer’s note: I was able to sit in the stands and get the riders coming at me while working with a zoom lens. I like how the only eyes I could see were the boys’ in the lead, while everyone else is looking down.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Lens EF80-200mm F2.8

7: June 27- Tina Hayer crashes during the VANS Old Skool Dirt Jump Contest at Gillies Creek Park. She cleared the 25-foot gap but wiped out on the landing during the Rumble in Richmond.

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Photographer’s note: Hayer’s crash was dramatic and she hit the ground hard, but bounced up right afterward. I like how her hands are firmly planted, but her body and the bike are still airborne. And the guy’s reaction in the background says it all.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Lens EF80-200mm F2.8

8: June 27 - A young rider works the concession stand during Rumble in Richmond at Gillies Creek Park.

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Photographer’s note: This was an endearing scene, typical of life during COVID, with the social distancing warnings, handwritten food and drink prices and the hand sanitizer duct taped to the window frame.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Lens EF80-200mm F2.8

9: March 15 - King [no other name given] listens to speakers at a vigil for his friend Sadao “Jae” Richardson Monday evening at Meadowood Square Shopping Center on Azalea Ave. Richardson, 34, was shot and killed in the Meadowood parking lot on Saturday night, March 13, where he was working as a security officer for a private event. Another man, Markus Floyd, 32, was also killed and several others were injured.

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Photographer’s note: A few months after this multiple shooting, when two were killed, Mayor Levar Stoney declared gun violence in Richmond a public health crisis. When covering vigils, I am always looking for the one face that tells the story in one frame. King in the red hoodie, with tears streaming down his face, was that person.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Lens EF80-200mm F2.8

10.  Nov. 21- The family of 14-year-old Rah’quan “Ompa” Logan mourns at a vigil for the slain boy at OMG Convenience Store at 3050 Nine Mile Rd., the site of the shooting, which happened on Nov. 12.

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Photographer’s note: Two more children were dead and Richmond had its highest homicide rate in the past 15 years. There’s not much else to say. As a journalist, you go and cover the event and hope the images help raise awareness about gun violence.

Nikon D850, Nikon 80-200 2.8 lens.

11. April 26 -  Protesters against a proposed casino in Scott’s Addition rally outside Bow Tie Cinemas on Arthur Ashe Boulevard.

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Photographer’s note: I like the way the signs pop against the blue sky and that the masks pinpoint COVID times.

Nikon D850, Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 lens.

12. Jan. 25 - Workers had installed fencing around the Robert E. Lee monument this morning in preparation of its eventual removal. From the Department of General Services press release: “As we await the resolution of legal challenges that have delayed the statue’s removal, DGS wants to be prepared to act quickly upon a final determination. The fencing is not intended to be permanent.”

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Photographer’s note: I shot this on my iPhone 11 in panoramic mode.

13. May 3 - Cruz Sherman (foreground) organized a Men in Action rally in support of victims of a mass shooting at Belt Atlantic Apartments on Midlothian Turnpike, which took place on April 27. Marchers held up three fingers in honor of Neziah. Sharnez Hill, 30, and her 3-month-old daughter Neziah, who both died, were two of five people shot.

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Photographer’s note: This event started at George Wythe High School with Senator Tim Kaine, Richmond Chief of Police Gerald Smith, Henrico Chief of Police Eric English and several others speaking out against gun violence. Sherman then led the march through the apartment complex with about a hundred people.

Nikon D850, Nikon 24-70 2.8 lens.

14. April 27 - Richmond Police Department Police Chief Gerald Smith wipes tears from the face of a mother whose child was wounded in the Belt Atlantic mass shooting on April 27.

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Photographer’s note: Smith doesn’t seek attention, so this is a genuine moment of attention and care from local law enforcement.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Lens EF80-200mm F2.8

15. April 27 -A bullet hole in a window at Belt Atlantic Apartments, following a shooting that left a mother and daughter dead and three wounded.

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Photographer’s note: The way the bullet fractures the window is haunting. I can’t imagine the trauma endured after experiencing a mass shooting.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Lens EF80-200mm F2.8

16. April 28 - J. Dontrese Brown discusses the power of repurposing the Lee monument by the Black Lives Matter movement. Brown, David Waltenbaugh and Dean Browell launched the immersive web project, Hidden in Plain Site, shedding light on Richmond’s practice of concealing its Black history. Their free, augmented-reality experience takes viewers on a virtual tour of the city’s neglected narratives.

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Photographer’s note: I love covering stories that reveal Richmonders’ ingenuity. While Dontrese was chatting about Hidden in Plain Site with freelance writer Rich Griset, I took advantage of him standing still with the “I AM A MAN” text on his shirt and the hulking monument to the Confederacy behind him. The guy on the bike with the BLM sign is a lucky added bonus.

Nikon D850, Nikon 24-70mm lens.

17. Jan. 18 - Members of a militia group march on Main Street near the State Capitol on Lobby Day.

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Photographer’s note: After 20,000 (mostly armed) Second Amendment protestors with guns showed up in 2020, I was prepared for a wild day. Lobby Day 2021 turned out to be relatively quiet, with opposing groups avoiding each other.

Nikon D850, Nikon 24-70mm lens.

18. Jan. 18 - Members of the Last Sons of Liberty gather to demonstrate on 9th Street near the State Capitol.

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Photographer's note: I’ve become so used to people parading around the Capitol with guns that it’s become run of the mill. The Virginian-Pilot decided to hire security to watch our backs during Lobby Day 2021, due to the overwhelming amount of guns present at Lobby Day 2020.

Nikon D850, Nikon 24-70mm lens.

19. Jan. 18 - Members of the Fred Hampton Gun Club demonstrate on Main Street during Lobby Day.

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Photographer’s note: Luckily, each group of demonstrators bearing weapons stayed clear of each other. During one moment a member of the Proud Boys walked through this group and I was sure that things were about to go sideways, but everyone kept their cool.

Nikon D850, Nikon 24-70mm lens.

20. May 19 - Hundreds marched on Broad Street in support of Palestine.

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Photographer’s note: This march was a little chaotic and I felt like I was in the midst of the BLM protests again. There was plenty of energy but it was difficult to get a good angle to show the scope of the crowd.

Nikon D850, Nikon 24-70mm.

21. May 19 - A man waves the flag of Palestine on Broad Street as hundreds marched during the Stand with Palestine Rally.

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Photographer’s note: I have no idea how he got up there, but it made for a dramatic image and is anchored by the well-known mural at Broad and Lombardy by James Bullough.

Nikon D850, Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 lens

22. March 15 - Children attend a vigil for Sadao “Jae” Richardson Monday evening at Meadowood Square Shopping Center on Azalea Ave. Richardson, 34, was shot and killed in the Meadow Square parking lot on Saturday night, March 13, where he was working as a security officer for a private event. Another man, Markus Floyd, 32, was also killed and several others were injured.

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Photographer’s note: One of the most jarring aspects of covering vigils is to see young children witnessing the outpouring of heartache and pain brought on by gun violence.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Lens EF80-200mm F2.8

23. July 14 - Paul Kirk, bar manager at Fuzzy Cactus, pours a Zombie Bird cocktail for a story in our annual Bar Guide.

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Photographer’s note: Paul’s a great guy and easy going. He pretty much shows up every day looking like a rock star, so my job was easy. He offered to make the Zombie Bird for a piece about favorite drinks from the Brookland Park restaurant and music venue. I asked Paul to pour the cocktail and look into the camera. He ended up on the cover.

Nikon D850, Nikon 24-70 2.8 lens.

24. June 27 - A youngster preps for a race at Gillies Creek Park during the Rumble in Richmond BMX race.

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Photographer’s note: Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to track down the racer to identify her, but the pacifier is priceless. She definitely has the makings of a true competitor.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Lens EF80-200mm F2.8

25. June 15 - As gun violence plagues the city, the Rev. Donte McCutchen of Love Cathedral Community Church seeks solutions. On April 27, a shooting at the Belt Atlantic Apartments claimed the lives of his 30-year-old cousin, Sharnez Hill, and her infant daughter, Neziah. The killings took place about a mile from McCutchen’s Love Cathedral Church.

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Photographer’s note: The first time I saw the fiery McCutchen preach was during a vigil for Jacob Jones on Sept. 19, 2019. Jones, 34, was a member of his congregation as well as drummer in the church band; he was killed earlier that week near the 6300 block of Jahnke Road.

Nikon D850, Nikon 24-70 lens.

26. March 5 - Family members comfort Cecilia Dye at a vigil for her daughter At’Taysiyah J. Dye at Jefferson Hill Park. At’Taysiyah, 23, went missing on Jan. 19 and was found dead on Feb. 24 in Richmond.

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Photographer’s note: This was heartbreaking because the family had few answers about what happened to their loved one. I was struck by the images of her on their shirts and the way their hands comforted her mother.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Lens EF80-200mm F2.8

27. Feb. 23 - Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, founder of the Conciliation Project, stands with Deejay Gray, artistic director of TheatreLab, at 300 E. Broad where TheatreLab stages its plays. The nonprofit social justice theater company is reconsidering the role of theater in America.

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Photographer’s note: These two were so easy to work with. Theater people are naturals at posing, which makes my job easy. Also the big mural behind them adds a pop to the image.

Nikon D850, Nikon 24-70mm lens.

28. May 7 - Tim and Georgia Ray Farmer take a selfie as a dramatic sunset ushered in the first Friday Cheers show of 2021. The venue was configured into pods for safe social distancing due to the ongoing pandemic.

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Photographer’s note: The crowd had a great time despite COVID causing the unusual seating configuration for an outdoor venue.

iPhone 11

29. Nov. 12 - At a vigil for murdered 14-year-old Rah’quan “Ompa” Logan, JJ Minor, president of the Richmond NAACP, Councilwoman Cynthia Newbille, Rah’quan’s aunt Aleta Johnson, and Rah’quan’s sister, Tarneka Scruggs, comfort 8-year-old Kadon Webster as he remembers his cousin. Logan was murdered on Nov. 12 at the site of the vigil, OMG Convenience Store, 3050 Nine Mile Rd.

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Photographer’s note: This vigil was heartbreaking because of the ages of the victims, 14 and 9. A devastating event in a neighborhood that has experienced several murders in the past few years. Two years ago, I photographed a vigil for the owner of a convenience store a couple blocks away. He was shot in the back while standing outside his store.

Nikon D850, Nikon 80-200 2.8 lens.

30. Lily Lamberta waves a George Floyd flag on the day scaffolding went up to start removing the Lee pedestal.

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Photographer’s note: I was one of half a dozen photographers trying to get this shot, but there were few moments when Lamberta was alone. I like the way the scaffolding creates a frame around the pedestal and the homemade flag reminds viewers of Floyd’s death and the BLM movement that enveloped the monument in 2020.

Nikon D850, Nikon 80-200mm lens.

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