Opinion: Capturing images of our changed lives

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While most of us have sheltered in place, our visuals team has been out in the community to show everyone the impact of the coronavirus in Georgia. We are honored to bring you this work Sunday in a special 12-page print section. 04-18-2020 (Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com)

Normally, we use this space so that you can hear from one of our editors.

Today, we’re doing something a little different. We’re introducing you to a special group of journalists — our photographers and videographers.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, they’ve remained on the front lines — documenting acts of kindness unfolding in our neighborhoods; reflecting the eerie quiet that has fallen over our city and our communities; capturing the selfless spirit of doctors, nurses, first responders and so many others who are trying to keep metro Atlanta going during these difficult times.

» SEE: Atlanta's journey through pandemic as seen by AJC's visual journalists

Their photographs will become part of history, a permanent reminder that will help tell this incredible tale of heartache and heroism.

As a way of saying thank you for supporting our journalistic mission during these troubling times, we’re offering a special section inside Sunday’s newspaper showcasing the stunning work of our photographers.

» COMPLETE COVERAGE: CORONAVIRUS

Their images are powerful. But so, too, are their stories and backgrounds.

So, let’s meet some of these folks who have spent their lives behind the lens.

Photographer Curtis Compton has documented the famine in Sudan and embedded with Georgia's troops during the Iraq war.

He joined our staff in 1993, and during normal times, Compton would be on the sidelines, so to speak, shooting UGA football games, or the Falcons, the Braves, Atlanta United or Hawks. Even the annual Masters Tournament.

But these aren’t normal times.

“I was covering Braves spring training, my favorite assignment of the year, listening to NPR each morning and evening during my commute to CoolToday Park in warm, sunny and dry North Port, Florida,” Compton said.

“I was feeling really happy to just be out of the never-ending rain back home. Remember when the rain was our biggest concern? Who knew we were headed to Ground Zero?”

Last week, Compton shifted his attention to the deadly tornadoes that had ripped through Georgia, and he captured the front-page photograph of the man hugging his young son amid the ruins of their home.

» RELATED: AJC ePaper available to everyone during coronavirus turmoil

In the newsroom, we often joke that photographer John Spink seems to be everywhere — no matter the hour.

A man with a healthy sense of humor, Spink understands the serious responsibility that comes with reflecting the drama and the humanity of breaking news.

In 2017, after stints in Wisconsin, Illinois and Kentucky, Alyssa Pointer, another one of our photographers, came to Atlanta. While she finds joy in working on long-term projects, Pointer has been spending her days racing from one assignment to the next as we try to cover every angle of the coronavirus.

“I’m learning to adapt to the changes that are all around us,” Pointer told me. “I find it fascinating that people are doing the best they can during the worst of times.”

As she’s out and about, Pointer has been trying to photograph the many handwritten signs that share glimmers of optimism. Her favorite thus far? A sign she spotted while on assignment in Rome, Georgia, that read: HOPE IS CONTAGIOUS.

In the spring, Bob Andres is typically shooting photographs at the state legislature. But several weeks ago, he put down his camera, and he's now helping us select the strongest photographs for the newspaper and for AJC.com.

Hyosub Shin, another one of our photographers, was born and raised in South Korea. Inspired by the stunning work he admired on the pages of National Geographic, Shin dreamed of becoming a photographer. So, one day, he boarded a plane and arrived in America to study photography.

Three years ago, he became an American citizen and recently received a license to pilot our drone. Since then, his photography has soared.

Shin’s work from the sky has provided readers with a bird’s-eye view of the pandemic’s effect.

“It’s been so surreal,” Shin said. “I kept muttering to myself, ‘wow,’ because of what I’ve witnessed: no cars on I-85 during rush hour, an empty downtown Atlanta, a family and an elderly mother celebrating her birthday at the closed window of a nursing home for her safety, and so much more.”

Our visual storytelling, of course, goes beyond “still” photography.

Two of our journalists, Ryon Horne and Tyson Horne (yes, they are related), have been spending their days shooting and editing our videos. Their work has truly helped bring this story to life.

“We are always looking for ways to contribute,” Ryon Horne told me. “We want to be creative. At the same time, we’re doing something we’ve never had to do before.”

In these days of social distancing, many of our interviews have been conducted over Skype, Zoom or other platforms, and we’ve been using that footage to create some of our videos.

Sandra Brown, a senior editor in the newsroom, oversees it all.

She works closely with others in our newsroom to decide what we’ll photograph and when and how. She ensures that our photographers don’t put themselves in harm’s way — and that their work doesn’t endanger the public, either.

Brown’s steady leadership, creativity and attention to detail has elevated our visual storytelling — more so now than ever before.

“This calls for lots of juggling under normal circumstances,” Brown said. “With the coronavirus, it’s more intense … It really does take a village.”

As you'll see inside Sunday's special section, we're also offering a keepsake of what is perhaps some of Mike Luckovich's finest work — his Iwo Jima-inspired cartoon.

You’ll hear more from Luckovich on how he came up with the idea, some of the tweaks he made along the way — and the one regret he has about the cartoon, which has been shared around the globe.

The past several weeks have been busy, for sure.

Like you, each of us in the newsroom is looking forward to the day when life returns to normal.

Compton can’t wait to photograph the Braves. Andres is looking forward to getting back on the street. As for Shin, he just yearns for a comfortable place to work.

“With editing photos, I used to do that at Starbucks or at the office. Currently, my car is my office,” he said. “Looking through hundreds of photos in a sedan is not fun.

“Although I know this outbreak won’t end anytime soon, I am personally looking forward to sitting in a comfortable chair and drinking a cup of coffee while I am editing.”

Mark Waligore is Managing Editor and Senior Director of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.