2018 is for ME!

It has been 4 years since I went to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. I cannot believe it has been that long. Seems like just yesterday we were on that cruise ship and staying up editing into the night, getting content ready to be posted for people waking in the US. It’s a crazy feeling and how I wish I could be in South Korea getting ready to do it all over again.

I’ve been so stunted for creativity lately. I’ve been in retail management for a while now. And every time I think I can get out I find myself getting more and more trapped. I become discouraged looking for other jobs and I wish I could be free. I used to get out there and shoot for hours and hours, and never find myself starved for inspiration. Now I’m lucky if I remember I have a camera to use.

My plan is to make the most of 2018. I went to school to be more and do more than I am right now.

The more and more I work 50 hours a week working in a mall with little gratification or appreciation the more it’s pushing me to pursue what I really want to be important to me. So I’m putting my original career goals back into focus. This is the year. No pushing my passion into the background.


San Francisco Pride 2014

San Francisco. It’s home to the famous Castro and Market streets. A gay pilgrimage of sorts takes place every year for the pride parade and festival. This year, J.P. and I got to join in on the festivities.

We’ve been out here in Sacramento for a little over a month and it’s been great. We had heard SF was the place to be for pride. And we were not disappointed.

We packed our things and headed for the Megabus that was supposed to leave at 1:15. Standing out in the Sacramento heat at 1:00 was terrible. We had to wait on another bus to transfer people to the bus heading to SF. Meanwhile, we waited. Outside. In 98 degrees. In jeans. One thing I did not realize about SF before visiting is that it is COLD. So J.P. and I were prepared.

The bus finally departed at about 2:00 and we were on our way to the 2nd biggest pride in the U.S. The ride there was relatively uneventful. I took a nap which is usual on any car ride lasting more than 10 minutes and we got to SF at 4:00.

Once there, we decided it was a nice day and we had been on a bus for two hours and that it’d be nice to walk all the way from Townsend between 3rd & 4th to the Marina district where we were staying. An hour later we arrived to the apartment we were staying at. Our friend’s, Adele and John, allowed us to stay at their apartment while they were away for the weekend. In exchange we agreed to take care of their Corgi, Lola. We took a walk to get some food at a nearby restaurant and headed back to relax for a bit. We then decided to take Lola with us on an adventure to find some ice cream. By the time we headed back she was tired and not having the walk. So we carried her. The whole way back.

We got back and relaxed for about an hour then called a cab and headed for the Castro. We were told there were going to be lines. However, these were like queue lines at disney world. After waiting in line for nearly 40 minutes we finally made it into Badlands. Bypassing the bar we squeezed ourselves into the dance floor. I say “dance floor” but there was barely any room to move around, let alone dance. We stayed for a few hours before deciding to retire for the night and rest up for the next day’s festivities.

We woke up and decided to walk to Market Street where the parade was happening and it actually turned out to be a very nice walk. We stopped in Starbucks and shared an iced coffee. We watched as people filed in and out dressed in rainbows. A couple blocks away is Market Street. We walked down the parade route a little ways before deciding to stand in the sun. It was a beautiful day out actually in the 70s. We were told it was actually unseasonably warm. The parade gets started and it is huge!

Thousands of people line the street and as many people are in the parade. It was really a cool sight. So much excitement; so much joy. We started talking to the woman next to us. It was her and her family’s first pride parade and they lived in SF. She was really excited and told us “Standing next to you do was the best decision! We get all the free stuff here!” She asks someone walking how long the parade is and they reply, “Oh very long. We’re number 32 out of 200-some.”

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Very long indeed. The sun started to move behind a building which meant we had to move further along the parade route. There we met a lovely woman from Indiana but she had been living in SF for many years. We also met a man from Connecticut who had been living in SF for a few years. We got to talking about pride and marriage and everything. She was really passionate about the topic.


Standing there we got to meet Youtube celebrity DaveyWavey. What started as us shouting at him just to meet him and say hi. Ended with him wanting to interview us for the live broadcast.

The parade began at 10:30 and ended around 3:00. The mix of people marching was awesome to see. Also, being in SF, corporations marched for equality. Apple was by far the largest, followed by Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Dropbox and Burger King. It was a great parade and once it was finished we made our way to the festival.

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We didn’t know exactly where we were going but we decided to follow the masses to the Civic Center. We arrived and walked around a bit. Hungry we looked at the food places. The lines were so long and it was also hard to find where the line ended because of so many people. We decided to go to a little hole in the way Mexican restaurant. It was cash only luckily we had just enough. Why are there so many places here in California that are cash only? We ended up only staying at the festival a little while longer and decided to leave. We were tired of pushing through the large groups of people and our feet were tired from walking. So we walked back to the apartment.


We got on the Megabus to come back to Sacramento at 9:00 and got back around 10:30. We were burnt to a crisp and tired. There was no tossing and turning we hit the bed and were asleep. It was a great weekend that we will for sure not forget anytime soon!

Sacramento Pride!

J.P. and I have gotten settled out here in Sacramento and he’s started his internship. Two weeks have gone quickly by and there’s only about six weeks left.

The Sacramento Pride Parade and Festival was this past Saturday (6/14) and it was quite an enjoyable experience. We had been to Pride events in Indiana and were somewhat comparing. We hadn’t realized that Sacramento was actually smaller than Indianapolis until we actually looked up the sizes and populations. Then it made sense that Sacramento Pride was smaller than Circle City IN Pride.

The parade was fun and it was very neat to see how many churches participated. And as any Pride parade is, it was very colorful.DSC_0269DSC_0267DSC_0303DSC_0232DSC_0218Of course there was the occasional shirtless man or two. DSC_0328 The1 performances in the festival were great including Neon Hitch, Tom Goss, and a drag show with headliner Raven from RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Neon2©2014, Matt Amaro Neon Hitch was looking fabulous!

I’m Done?!

Little Rock, Ark. was more of a whirlwind than I expected. My internship was amazing and I got photograph a lot of stories that I am proud of. One of my goals going into this internship was to create a product that I was proud of, and I did just that.

After photographing a Human Rights Campaign press conference, I was contacted by Kristen Hare at Poynter. Poynter is looked up to by many journalism education professionals and has always been a resource that the professors at Ball State have encouraged us to use. Kristen asked me if I wanted to write this story she had an idea for. She described the story to me over the phone: writing a personal narrative about Taylor Ellis’s bio in the yearbook being censored and my coming out story being published in my senior yearbook. I was pleased by the opportunity and was excited to get started writing.  Now, being a photographer, I told her that I was not the strongest writer. To which she said, “I’ve read your blog and you have a very clear voice which will be perfect for this.” Encouraged, I wrote my story after some editing it was posted on the website.

For the most part, the reception was good. Many people found strong take-aways from my story. Some said it was misguided, but I guess that’s the subjective part of blog writing. I was proud of the work I did and no one sitting behind a keyboard can take that away from me.

In the final days of my internship, I had a photo that was made into the cover and I photographed for the kids magazine that the Arkansas Times owns, Savvy Kids. It was a great experience to be able to work for two different publications and turn out work that people around the office were taking notice of. I cannot believe it’s over and that I have now graduated. In just a few weeks, I will be heading out to Sacramento for eight weeks while JP does his internship. Excited to start this new chapter in my life.

My Internship at the Arkansas Times

Well, here we are in the third week of my internship. I has been an experience to say the least. Between running all over the city to get photos from Brian (the head photog) down at the courthouse to the blog, and brainstorming ideas for potential stories, I’m getting a lot out of this internship already!

We are an Alt Weekly (like NUVO in Indy), and we like to describe ourselves as “A blue paper in a very RED state”. We’re the liberal voice and consequently some people absolutely love us and what we do and others hate us. But that’s the name of the game here.  We go to press on Tuesday and the paper goes out on Thursday. Every week I find it so exciting to look at the issue and see my photos printed in an actual publication! Perhaps the newness of this will fade and it’ll just be like any other photo, but for now it’s really exciting.

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I’m covering everything from drag shows at a bar that’s closing, to a vote on health care. Some days are more exciting than others but that’s how it goes. I’ve been complimented several times not only for my photos but also for my captions. Looks like the journalism department has a lot to be proud of. “No one writes great captions like these” I’ve heard. “Not even the head photographer writes them like this.” So that’s very encouraging and tells a lot about our photojournalism program at Ball State.

One of the coolest moments was when I wrote a blog about my experiences in Sochi.

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It got amazing reception and I even made some friends from it. People loved it and shared it all over Facebook and Twitter.

All in all, so far this has been a great experience! I have only seven and a half weeks left here and I’m on to graduation. It seems like forever away but in the grand scheme of things it’s actually very close!

Posted on the Advocate!

Shortly after we got back from the bar, Ryan and I got to work on the story and photos. We worked until about 4:45 in the morning. We were so inspired and fired up about this great moment that we had captured.

I wrote a blog about it the following night and to my surprise it got great reception. First, Poynter did an article about BSU at the Games and included an excerpt of my blog and linked to it.  Then I received a pingback on my blog from a Latin news source that translated the Poynter article in to Spanish.

That was all great getting my name and my blog out there.  Then I get a tweet from MediaBistro’s publication FishBowlNY.Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 11.22.03 AM

I read the article they had written with the headline “Sochi drag queen manhandles Ball State Student.” I disagreed with their last sentence, “Perhaps the interaction with Amaro was the performer’s attempt to try and help put an end to the media crush.” I did not have this impression at all. I’ve been to many a drag show and these kinds of things happen all the time, with or without media attention.  It’s just apart of the job.

Well I quickly tweeted them back stating what I believed, and the writer responded to me quickly telling me he believed it “was a throw away last sentence, that should’ve been thrown away.”  He then updated the article stating that I firmly disagreed with the “theory last sentence” and that I was probably right.

After this engagement, we still hadn’t heard back from Advocate.  The story was almost finished and my photos were done and turned in.  Ashley Cox, a PR person in the class, came to me and told me she wanted to try pitching the photos to Buzzfeed.  While this would have been neat, I was still wanting to hold out for the Advocate. And I’m glad that we did.

One day after going out with only a few people, I returned to the ship.  Ashley told me that we still hadn’t heard anything.  I started to get discouraged and went down with Marcey to work on the photographs that we took that day. We got a beer and got to work.

Ashley comes down to the lounge with Ryan Howe and the documentary team that was with us.  She tells me that she had lied about the fact that we didn’t hear anything back from the Advocate and that they wanted to run the story and the photos on their site!

I was ecstatic and literally almost cried.  They have my whole reaction on film too.  When it finally ran, it was the top story of the day and got hundred of likes on facebook and comments on the website.

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The best little gay bar in Sochi

We ring the doorbell at a nondescript door and are looked at through a security camera. After this screening, the door opens and we are welcomed in. Bonu, our translator, talks to someone and tells them that we’re here to have an interview with Andre, the bar owner.

They go and get him while we wait in the cramped entry way. He appears dressed in a grey Abercrombie polo, in a manner in which makes it very clear he works out. He ushers us into a room marked “MEN ONLY.” The room is decked out floor to ceiling with larger than life photographs of ripped men in underwear. Our leader, Ryan Sparrow, leans over and jokingly says, “Are we sure this is a gay bar?”

The interview begins, and everyone is clearly nervous. We didn’t know the extent of the law or if anything bad could happen. In the interview, the question of if he had been threatened with violence or threatened to be shut down, he replies, “Absolutely not. People misinterpret the law and have blown it out of proportion.” He says that Sochi is so different from all of the rest of Russia as well, because A. It’s a tropical region and B. It’s a big city. This put us a little more at ease.

After about a 30 minute interview, we were told we could only take pictures of him, the performance and those that work there.  He then showed us through the bar to the back where the drag queens were getting ready.

Ryan opens the door and walks in. He is quickly shooed out by a news crew. There last night apparently was The Associated Press as well as BBC. It’s was  a cramped little area, sort of like a narrow hallway with mirrors. When we finally entered, we stopped to talk to a drag queen dressed like Liza Minelli. Her name was Miss Zhuozha, and she had been in the army before falling in love with a man.

Note that is not me in the mirror!

Note that is not me in the mirror!

Other drag queens were getting ready, one in only fishnets and a t-shirt. Smoking a cigarette, she looked at me so suspiciously and almost annoyed that yet another photographer was allowed in.  She went about her business and we soon had to leave for the show to get started.

We stepped out to the main stage and quickly had to find a seat.  A video begins to play on large screen on stage.  The video is of a little girl holding holding a heart balloon and singing the Russian national anthem.  She starts singing and the bar starts singing right along with her.  Something that brought tears to my eyes and chills to my spine.  Throughout the course of the song she was shown in a big stadium with rainbow flags all around.  It was a very moving video.

Soon a drag queen then comes out on stage.  She is dressed in tons of pink feathers.  She starts lip syncing to “I Will Survive.”  There was something different that I noticed right away between American drag shows and Russian ones. TIPS.  It’s common in American gay bars to run up during their performances and give them money, mostly singles.  In Russian drag shows, everyone pretty much just stays seated and may or may not sing along and dance in their seats.


After the first queen performed, she started talking and reading people in Russian. “Because reading is what?! FUN-DE-MENTAL” She walks over to where I am knelt on the side of the stage.  She tells the bar that I am one of her friends.  I stand up and say hello and she asks how I am doing.  I say “Fine”  She then puts a hand on my CROTCH!  I was kind of in shock but just went a long with it. That’s just something you do during a drag show.  It just caught me off guard and plus I don’t speak Russian so I had no idea what she was saying.

Photo by Ryan J. Sparrow

Photo by Ryan J. Sparrow

The second queen came on soon after that and performed.  Shortly after her performance we decided to leave since it was quite late.  We were on quite a high leaving the bar we came back and immediately got to work!  We just pitched the story to the Advocate and the photos following!

Спасибо за чтение.  Thank you for reading!

New Day, New Adventure

It’s about 11:40 and we are sitting waiting for something to happen. Nothing bad, just something. Most of us stayed up until 4:30 am and woke up 4 hours later to meet for breakfast. I crashed with all my clothes on and came to breakfast disheveled with my contacts foggy.

Breakfast was a plentiful buffet of fruit and dried out hash browns as well as hard sausage (no pun intended).  Some tried to smuggle out fruit for later consumption and others went back to nap and shower before we left.

Yesterday, we set out to cover what we could of the opening ceremonies. This would be difficult since we could not get into the Olympic Village and didn’t have tickets. we talked to people that could speak English and those who spoke very little English.

The rest of the day today was full of standing in lines and going through security. We decided to go to see the Olympic Park in the afternoon.

There were people waiting in line for tickets getting tired of waiting. They were throwing passports and demanding tickets.

We headed to Sochi where the Olympics aren’t actually held. They’re actually in Adler which is about a 35 minute train ride awat. The we walked around and finally got something to eat at a traditional Russian restaurant. I had dumplings which were the best thing ever! We then took a cab back to the train station to get back to the Olympic village.

Sorry this blog is so late a lot we have been doing and little time to write.

Here in Moscow!

Yesterday was a blur and didn’t have much time to blog.  So here is the blog for yesterday and today!

Yesterday we arrived in Amsterdam around 5:45 AM!  The other half of the group got in around 3 hours later.  So we were stuck there for awhile.  Later, we hopped the shuttle for the hotel and about 15 minutes later we had arrived.  We got there and our rooms weren’t cleaned yet.  We put all of our stuff down in a a locked room and headed back to the airport to get on the train to the center of the city.

We got to the ticket kiosks and realized they didn’t take most of our credit cards.  And being in the city for only a day, most of us didn’t want to take out cash. We figured it out and ended up getting money out just for some tickets.  8.50 euro to and from.

Once downtown, we walked up to get out of the station. On the outside, the station was gilded with gold and very ornate.  It was one of those stations that would be very hard to lose track of and forget.  A game plan was made, and we broke off to explore the city and planned to meet back up in an hour to see what we wanted to do.  Walking around was quite an amazing experience.station

Gathering together an hour later some decided to go to the Anne Frank museum and house.  Others, just wanted to walk around and find a flower market. We walked around and found quite a few canal bridges and took many pictures of different slanted buildings as well and interesting things we found.

We walked around for another 3.5 hours meandered through alley and accidentally stumbled across the red light district.  After walking around in circles we just decided to head back to the station and found others who were ready to go as well.  Forgetting my toothbrush at home I stopped in a HEMA store (basically a Target full of clothes, electronics and cosmetics) and grabbed a toothbrush and some Dutch toothpaste.  So that’s cool right?!

After heading back to the hotel, all of us were tired and grouchy.  We got back and took showers and felt very renewed.  KFC just happened to be across the street and we ran over to get some dinner. We headed back to the hotel and went to BED! After about 30 hours without sleep all of us just hit the pillow and were down for the count.

We woke up and packed and headed back to the airport for Moscow. We didn’t have wifi much today so very minimal posts.  In the Amsterdam airport, we accidentally stumbled on a protest of the Russian anti-gay protest.  There were some Dutch women singing a song and dancing to some music.  A couple people joined in from our group and were interviewed by a team afterwards asking if they liked and if they knew what it meant.  The song’s title was literally “Kiss the Russian”  a couple of lyrics were “Boys kiss boys and girls kiss girls”  Some of us said “OH CRAP” and that we should be here on video.

The Amsterdam airport was so very confusing and inefficient.  Every gate had it’s own security without anything beyond it except they waiting area.  Any liquids you had in your bags either had to be transferred or thrown away.  Anything bought from the food and gift stores had to be non-breakable and under a certain amount of liquid.  If you buy liquid it had to be unopened and sealed in a plastic bag from the store. The most inefficient security check followed.  We weren’t sure what they allowed since some things on receipts that were breakable said “weapon” and some things they said they’d throw away.

Our flight left at 11:40 am and with the three hour time change we arrived in Moscow around 6:30. We went through passport check and customs just fine which we were worried about. Got to the hotel finally, after sitting in traffic for about 2 hours we finally got here to the hotel.  Starving, we quickly dropped off our bags and quickly ran to the buffet to stuff our faces.  Now, we’re connected and blogging and pretty much working on anything we have right now.

Pictures of Amsterdam to come! Have a great afternoon everyone!!

Preparations for Russia

The Olympics.  A time for many to relax and watch the event unfold at home.  I, however, am lucky enough to be traveling over to Sochi, Russia this week!

BSU At The Games is a freelance news outlet that I have been working for since last semester.  We are lucky enough to be representing Ball State University at the Olympic games for the second time now.

The trip is paid for, the bags are packed.  Now, we’re just waiting for the plane to take off.  That doesn’t happen till Wednesday, though.  This has been a long road and it’s prepared us for this.  We traveled to the USOC Media Summit back in September/October.  We got a slight taste of what may be in store for us.  Non-stop working and turning out photos and stories like any other news source.  Our stories and photos have been featured on WTHR here in Indianapolis, as well as the Gazette out of Colorado Springs.  We are also looking forward to working with the Spokesman Review in Spokane, as well as a possible tie in with CNN!

While we have no idea what Sochi has in store for us, we plan on hitting the ground running.  Many have packed in a single carry-on, while others (like me) with camera equipment have chosen to check a bag.

I’ve had many people come to me with concerns of Russia right now.  For me, this opportunity is too great for me to simply pass on. Being a gay man travel to a part of the world so intolerant, does put me on edge a bit.  Reading the articles and hearing from LGBT people living is Russia is heartbreaking.  I hope to be able to talk to some people living there and hear their stories directly.  For me, this opportunity goes beyond covering the Olympics.  It goes all the way to helping those in my community who have faced a far greater struggle than I can even imagine.