This has been a normal-looking week for 18-year-old Elias Edquist. Chores at home, and banjo and guitar practice keep him busy daily until his evening shift begins at a local dairy farm. This hardworking, kind young man is leaving his life-long Mountain Grove home for the first time at the end of September for a six-week train conducting course in Kansas City. While Elias is excited for the journey, he will miss his quiet life on the farm where animals greet him daily and his family surrounds him in comfort. These are his last days at home.

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Elias Edquist, 18, pets their mule Gus as his father Eric pours cattle feed during daily chores. After spending his whole life on his family’s Mountain Grove farm, Elias will soon move to Kansas City for a six-week train conducting program.

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Feeding cattle is a regular task for Elias on the family farm where he has helped out since he was a child. Elias’ dad Eric inherited a dairy farm from his father, but after stress of finances and endless work, Eric switched to raising beef a few years ago. Chores change from day to day, but feeding cattle each day is the most important duty.

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Elias begins milking at Dwight Fry’s nearby dairy farm. Elias has been milking cows for many years and it has become second nature. His parents, Eric and Cheryl, say Elias has always been very methodical with everything, especially milking. When something goes wrong, “We tease him with a quote from Thomas the Tank Engine,” Cheryl said. “We tell him we’ve upset his arrangements.”

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Elias heads to banjo practice with work clothes in tow. He has been playing banjo for less than two years, but has already performed in front of 10,000 people. Elias will take his guitar and banjo to Kansas City. “I can never give this up,” he said.

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Elias enjoys learning a tune from banjo teacher Alan Strickland in West Plains. Strickland, who had not played in many years, was inspired by Elias to pick up his banjo again. “Elias is like a sponge with the banjo,” Alan said. “I’m going to miss my buddy.”

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Elias consults with his dad as they try to hook an implement to the tractor. Elias has been Eric’s right-hand man since he was a child. Eric planned to drive with Elias to Kansas City, but decided to stay back because it would be too emotional for him.

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Besides homemade spurs and a flag that flies on special occasions, pictures of Elias and his sister Hala are on display on a dresser at home.

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The Edquist family prays before dinner after a busy day. School and FFA activities occupy Hala, and Elias usually works until 8:00 p.m. The family makes it a point to eat supper together every day.

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Home haircuts by his mom Cheryl have been the rule for Elias. He has had only one haircut outside of home his entire life. “We need to make this one last,” Cheryl joked.

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Elias’ mom Cheryl helps Elias pack clothes for his six-week training program in Kansas City. The move is bittersweet for the tight-knit family. “The four of us are really close,” Cheryl said. “It’s going to be really different without him.”

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Elias hugs their mule, Wrangler. Elias is excited about his potential future in train conducting, but knows leaving home won’t be easy. “This has been home my whole life,” Elias said. “It’s going to be different.”

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When the sun is shining, Elias likes to sit in the garage and take in the sights and smells of the land around him. “I like it here,” Elias said. “It’s nice and quiet.”

One of the most important things in my career happened in the last week of September. I was fortunate to be a part of the 70th Missouri Photo Workshop in lovely town of Mountain Grove, MO.

Saying I was stunned with my acceptance is an understatement. I absolutely could not believe I would be working alongside incredible photographers and faculty for a whole week.

To be honest, this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. After finding a story in about two days, I felt this immense pressure to take good pictures with a narrative.

The pressure got to me. I was taking bad images and was not thinking about the core of my story. My anxiety skyrocketed in ways I haven’t felt in a long time. I felt extremely overwhelmed with a 400 frame limit and this internal need to do well, I was honestly worried I could not make it through.

Something clicked though and I remembered why I was doing this. I applied to the workshop to better my photography, storytelling and overall confidence in my work. I finally listened to my mentors, who were my constant supporters as well as critics, Mary Beth Meehan and Dennis Dimick. They wanted me to be intentional, to think about my images as more than just images. So I did just that.

Finally, I saw the difference. I was thinking before shooting, every shot was intentional and necessary to the story. My images were improving drastically and I’m already seeing this change in my photography at the Daily News. I can’t really believe it took me traveling to Missouri to see what I was missing, but I feel so much better now.

I realized my weakness wasn’t finding stories or connecting with people. It was actually taking photos that matter. I’m ready for my work to matter again. I’m ready to truthfully tell stories, which is the reason I came into this profession in the first place.

I have to shout out Elias and his family for letting me into their lives for a week. They probably didn’t know what they were getting into, but they were so wonderful regardless. They helped me see that I really am doing what I should be with my life. We truly felt comfortable with one another and I hope I can bring that to all the people I meet through my job.

 

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