New staff photographer reflects on Navy’s journey to Clarksville
Editor’s note: Liam Kennedy is the new Leaf Chronicle and Daily Herald photographer at Columbia. Here he explains what led him to journalism and to Clarksville.
I grew up in the town of Lafayette in northwest Indiana, where I spent the majority of my days skateboarding and searching the internet for music. I was the first of my friends to be allowed to own and drive a car, which then sent us on trips to Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee where I was filming videos for skate shops and brands. There was something unique about being the person holding the video camera, I was the organizer, the mule, the navigator and the creative director. I felt like I was documenting special moments from my youth and not letting my childhood pass by lazily.
There were, however, consequences to those long days and nights. My studies started to take a back seat, I had been fired or quit most of my fast food jobs because I just wanted to travel and college had never seemed so appealing to me. So my dad, a Gulf War Navy veteran, drove me to the local recruiting office where I signed on the dotted line a few months after I turned 18.
The rest is history, I went to boot camp and “A” school where I learned to tell the story of the Navy. I learned about print journalism, video, graphic design, web design and, most importantly, I found in myself a talent for taking photos. I had found my direction in life and over the next eight years of service I began to hone those skills until I was accepted into Syracuse University’s prestigious military photojournalism program. which had been created by John F. Kennedy to train the Navy. photographers alongside professionals in the field.
During my time in the Navy, I developed a passion for covering historical events and natural disasters. As a child, I witnessed the tragic events of September 11. I was eight when the Twin Towers fell, both of my parents had worked in the towers, and my father had even scheduled a meeting that day on an upper floor that had been canceled the night before. We lived in a town just across the river named Ridgewood, NJ and had a place named “The View” which had a clear view of New York. My dad took me to the view, put me on his shoulders and said, “That’s what bad people do”, as we watched the towers fall. It was my first lesson in the bad manners of the world and a window into history.
While in the Navy, I covered Typhoon Hiyan in the Philippines, Hurricane Irma in the Virgin Islands, and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Since then, I’ve covered the tornadoes that tore through Kentucky as well as the war in Ukraine.
I decided to leave at the end of March to document the war with press references from Redux as a freelancer. I flew to Poland and took a train to Kyiv where for six weeks I traveled to and from frontline cities documenting war crimes, damage, families torn apart and a strong national will which refuses to bend or break under Russian occupation. The goal was to capture an honest, raw and unfiltered view of warfare.
During my time in Ukraine, I learned to understand the importance of grassroots and local reporting by observing how diligently, gracefully and compassionately Ukrainian journalists worked to cover their country. I believed that if I wanted my job to grow, I had to do the same at home. By word of mouth, I was offered the job at the Leaf Chronicle and the Daily Herald and I’m here to do just that.
I’m 29 and I’ve traveled to 49 states, 25 countries, and six continents, but there’s no place I’d rather be than covering the communities of Clarksville and Columbia, because every great story begins by a small community.
Contact Liam Kennedy at [email protected]