I spent last weekend in Buckingham County, Va., at a marksmanship and history clinic called the Appleseed Project, an endeavor that’s amassing quite a following around the country. Here’s my story about it. I’d been following a local citizens militia since August, hoping to write about them, and they led me to Buckingham. Once there I realized that Appleseed was a more substantial story at this point in time. So I pulled a switcheroo. It was a great weekend. When I’m out in the world, in unfamiliar territory, living another life for a spell, getting inside people’s heads — I’m convinced there’s no better job. The folks at the Appleseed Project were welcoming and trusting — and made me a better shot — so I hope they feel the story is fair.
The best part of the process, though, was working with Post photographer Michael Williamson, who’s just about the best of the best, a zany maverick who’s amassed some outrageous life experiences (being airlifted onto a Rwandan hillside during the genocide, getting into a jagged bottle fight with a fellow stowaway on a freight train, and so on). This assignment wasn’t visually dynamic, the light was bad and Williamson was coming off three days of no sleep after another assignment in Tennessee. “They don’t pay me the big bucks to shoot famine and war,” he told me in Buckingham. “They pay me to get a good shot from this.” And he’s right. And he did. Here’s his photo gallery.
I love working alongside photographers, and Williamson didn’t just shoot; he reported. He sniffed out the story with me, shared observations, treated this assignment as seriously as any other, and was engaging and hilarious. His instincts — honed by the Gulf War and the Balkans and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua — are impeccable. It was a damn pleasure. Here’s his Pulitzer-winning feature photography, and his epic portrait of the South, “And Their Children after Them.” He’s a tremendous documentarian of the human condition. I also recommend his photography in Half a Tank, the Post’s recession blog. Perhaps his most haunting and widely disseminated image from that project is a portrait of the man who lived in a homeless camp behind a K-Mart in Virginia: