Healing Garden

When we first wrote about our time at Oregon State Penitentiary we shared our trepidations of entering a male maximum security prison. In that tale we introduced you to Megan Lowe, a Corporal Corrections Officer at OSP, but she wasn’t the only one we were meeting that day. Once we wrapped our dynamic shoot with Megan in the middle of a locked down cell block we were ready to be securely relocated. We arrived to a space that looked more like a recreation room at a day camp rather than a prison

The large gym like open space was outlined with rooms made of chain link fencing. Each brightly colored vibrant room contained a different club run by the inmates themselves with the help of Patrice Lans.

Patrice is Oregon State Penitentiary’s Activities Director and another addition to our ongoing project, Women’s Work. Before taking on the challenge of working in male prison Patrice spent twenty-four years in the grocery industry and peaked at the corporate office level. Feeling the need to change paths she accepted a temporary position in the kitchen of Coffee Creek Correctional Facility as a food service coordinator. Soon after this, she was asked to interview for a different position and was hired by the activities department in OSP.

I really like the niche that I’m working in. I love to be in the trenches instead of managing other tasks and such. I’d rather be working with the people, making stuff happen.

Patrice Lans

And with her help stuff does happen.  For one, Patrice and the Asian Pacific Family Club of OSP are working towards being the first prison in the western world to have a healing garden within its walls.


It has been proven that nature such as flowing water and plant life can reduce stress. In a study in 2016 done by Arcadia University about gardening programs in prisons has shown to enhance incarcerated individuals’ psychosocial well-being in three different ways:

  1. Increased their self-efficacy and self-worth
  2. Decreased their anxiety and depression symptoms
  3. Reduction in reincarceration rates.

With the healing garden there is hope of improving the overall quality of life for all the inmates.

I feel strongly that I’m making an impact by building and facilitating these programs in the prison, so that the inmates will be better citizens when they get out.

Patrice Lans

Patrice is making a difference is the lives of the inmates she works with and with her help projects like the healing garden become a reality. A reality that benefits everyone.

How the Gang started 2019

The Crisman team assembled at the Philadelphia International airport only 16 hours after the ball dropped.

The team was off to their first string of shoots for 2019.  Noel, our production coordinator, arranged 7 shoots in 3 cities within 11 days, no big deal.  The team consisted of Chris, Robert, Mike, Noel, and a former team member Jared Castaldi. They were ready to take on the challenge.


This trip to the West Coast was dedicated to our ongoing project, Women’s Work


Their first stop was Las Vegas to meet and photograph four very different women. They had the privilege to meet Desiree Reed-Francois – Athletic Director of University of Nevada – Las Vegas

Abingdon Welch – Pilot
Meena Vohra – Medical Director of Children’s Hospital of Nevada

and Tonya Rhodes – Casino Shift Manager at Mandalay Bay. Each experience was unique and worthy of its own story for another time.


At the end of their time in the city that never sleeps the team partially disbanded. Jared headed back to the East Coast; Mike threw a camera and a fishing pole into his car and hit the road; and Chris, Robert, and Noel drove west kicking dust behind their gear packed Suburban. They were driving to Los Angeles to meet Heidi and Renae Moneymaker – Stuntwomen, 

and Danielle Perez – Standup Comedian.

These two shoots allowed Robert to flex his photo assistant skills. As a producer, he rarely has the opportunity to build a light while on set. Typically he is juggling dozens of tasks and it was nice to be Chris’s photo assistant once again.

“It was like riding a bike.” 

-Robert Luessen

On January 8th Chris and Noel left Robert to fly back to the office. After two full days in LA, they packed their bags once again and were ready to head north to Palo Alto. There they would finally meet up with Mike for the final shoot with the Vice President of Google, Yoky Matsuoka.  They hit the winding roads north of LA and for the first time in days, it didn’t rain. Supposedly it only rains in LA in January… Who knew?

The team’s shoot with Yoky wasn’t scheduled until January 10th. With this bit of downtime, Mike could hunt down more beautiful landscapes. When the team was finally reunited in Palo Alto they were full of stories to share and tales to tell.

Their time at Google was a wonderful opportunity to work with Yoky and see their stunning campus.  Once wrapped the only thing left for them to do was to get on a plane on the 11th at 6:02 AM. This, of course, is a lot easier said than done. Especially when traveling with 7 checked bags filled with gear. They always give themselves enough time for the process. There was the talk of not even sleeping, but in the end, they all caught a couple Z’s. 6:02 AM came quickly and the team was happy to watch the San Francisco skyline drift into the distance as the traveled into the sunrise. They had done it. 7 shoots in 3 cities in 11 days. A great way to start 2019!

 

Gratitude

As we spend the last few days of 2018 in reflection, we view our recent past with great fondness. 2018 has been a year of continued change and growth defined by new challenges. 


All along the path, we have created many memories.

We have traveled all over the land and worked with so many wonderful people. Some long time conspirators and other new faces that we will welcome back to our team when the right time comes.

 No matter where a project took us, each one allowed us to dive further into the depths of creativity and to make each opportunity count.

As we look forward to even greater challenges, our team continues to grow.  This year called for expansion and we were fortunate to have Noel Pattani hop on board.

Noel is currently our production coordinator and we are excited to see how her strengths continue to develop as a part of our team.

 With her help, we have expanded Chris’s personal project, Women’s Work. Her creativity, spirit, and strong values have brought a new sense of life to who we are.

Mike Ryan will be entering his first year as a full-time member in 2019.

It seems like it’s been years, but his commitment and dedication restored a balance to our team as well as helped shape how we get it all done.

To be part of so many projects that pushed our creative limits has been a thrill and a pleasure. As a team of creative people, we require challenges and 2018 has been full of them. From creating a lush garden in studio during December, to traveling to Cape May, NJ to capture an oyster farmer and her crew at sunrise, to working 18 hour days in the scorching summer sun, we will continue to raise the bar on creative productions that bring out the best in everyone who is part of our what we do.  We are grateful for the opportunity to do what we love and to share our passions and strengths with you.

One to 2019 – Our next call time hits in just over 72 hours.

When a Fire Starts to Burn

As the California wildfire season comes to the end we look back at one of the most damaging to date. The devastation that ripped through the state did the same to so many of our friends and family and at this point, the destruction from the fires can be seen from space. When thinking about our defense against the out of control havoc most only know of firefighters, but these selfless heroes arrive when damage has already begun. Now with flash floods rampaging through the fire-scarred earth, many are left to wonder what can be done to prevent such massive ruin?

A controlled burn 

It seems like a delicate match and Mary Lata has made a career striking that balance. As a Fire Ecologist Mary’s job is to observe and monitor the Tonto National Forest to decide when a fire should burn or be put out. At times she prescribes controlled burns as a  necessary strategy for the health of the area. 

Yes, sometimes fires are set for the betterment of the environment. Like most of us, Mary too didn’t realize that this was a job she could have until she was working at Badlands National Park as an Interpretive Ranger. It immediately became obvious to her that fire ecology was what she should do. She finds it hard to imagine a life that doesn’t involve working outside with fire and natural lands.

To understand how fires become out of control you must first understand the natural impact they have on the ecosystem. Fires are a necessary part of nature. It’s a disturbance just like flooding, wind-storms, and landslides. Many environments like savannahs and prairies require regular burning to allow many native plant species to germinate, establish, or to reproduce. Wildfire suppression not only limits these plants to thrive but could potentially eliminate them all together. Wildfire prevention also exacerbated the lack of control we have once a fire takes hold.

A natural wildfire will create gaps in the vegetation, which help to contain and not allow them to become massive fires.  So, when we prevent mother nature’s failsafe and allow plant life to grow uncontrolled we give a flame the fuel to thrive. Through controlled burns, we create the ability to limit the damage of fire can do. Mary, like a master chess player, watches over our terrain as if a well played board. Observing and planning her next move.


Running of the Pigs

When we heard about Stryker Farms and Nancy Poli we envisioned the next perfect Women’s Work shoot. Nestled just two hours outside of Philadelphia is where Nancy and her son, Nolan Thevenet run Stryker Farms. Unlike the traditional large pink pigs from Old McDonald’s farm, their Farm specializes in heritage pigs.

Nancy and Nolan raise a mix of 6 different breeds; Tamworth, Berkshire, Hereford, Yorkshire, Gloucestershire Old Spot, and Large Black. These old-world breeds have a tendency to grow slower than conventional pigs resulting in a more flavorful pork. Stryker Farms takes pride in the fact that their pigs are raised outdoors and enjoy a natural diet of non-GMO grains and grasses without the use of antibiotics or hormones.

After a bit of pre-production, handled by Robert Luessen, we were ready to visit Stryker Farms on April 17th, 2016. With a sunrise call time Chris, Robert, Jared Castaldi, and Sam Green hit the road north towards Stroudsburg. 

With every mile, we drove the more the urban landscape drifted away leaving room for lush wooded landscapes. After a few music albums and several random conversations, we arrived at the dirt road of Stryker Farms.

Once at the farm we were greeted by a little shop selling their wares, such as cheeses and sausages. We drove past the shop, knowing we would return to stock up of delightful treats to take home. We continued to drive towards the buildings that housed the livestock. In a addition to pigs, Stryker farms also raises beef and dairy cows, chickens, turkeys, and goats.

I don’t know if you have ever been on a farm but you can’t visit one without experiencing a particular smell.  This time was no different and the stench was unbearable. The muck created by the animals was everywhere, as expected. We need to set gear down on the ground but had no intention of anything becoming covered in manure. So we planned ahead and added plastic bags to the gear prep list. The plastic bags were wrapped to the bottom of all stands and power packs were placed in them. Of course, this was a time before we used battery powered lights so the farm quickly became covered with cords. To make things more difficult we wanted to keep the wires above the manure-covered ground. So we strung them like festive Christmas lights throughout the space.

Robert hanging festive extension cords

Once all of the lights, extension cords, and power packs were prepped and ready to go it was time to set up the shot. Chris came to Skryker Farms with a strong image in his mind’s eye. The vision was there and it was time to make it a reality. There was a path that directed the pigs from a lower housing location to an upper feeding area. This was the space that would allow Chris’s vision come to life. To create the illusion of Nancy calmly standing in the middle of stampeding pigs we realized it needed to be two separate pictures that would be combined in post.

The composition that Chris envisioned was with Nancy centered with the pigs running on both sides of her in the path. To achieve this it would require the camera to float in the middle of the chute. We decided that we needed to create a rig. Something that would allow the camera to stay in the space while the pigs ran through. The team devised a metal bar that attached across the path where the camera would be secured.

While shooting Nancy, Chris would use the rig as a tripod but of course, he too couldn’t be in the chute once the pigs were set loose. It was decided he would use a remote to fire the camera while standing safely outside of the action.  After a few tests of the remote to ensure it would fire we were ready to begin.

We were truly lucky to have such a charming and captivating subject as Nancy. We quickly got what we need from her and were ready to move on to the unpredictable part of the day. The pig run. We only had one opportunity to get this shot. Once the lower pen door opened the pigs without direction would instinctively run up the hill for their anticipated meal. Once Chris and Nancy climbed out of chute we were ready.

Release the PIGS!

With great excitement, the pigs rampaged up the hill running underneath the excellently placed rig/camera setup. At the same time, Chris was fiercely pressing the remote to fire the camera as to capture the thrilling moment. Once all of the pigs were clear of the chute and happily eating, it was a wrap. We began to clean E V E R Y T H I N G and then did another thorough cleaning once back to the office. Our time at the farm was quick and unforgettable. Nancy and her corkscrewed tailed co-stars were a delight. They gave us everything we needed to create a beautiful photograph that focused on the moment. We found a little piece of magic on this shoot that helped us create something unique and memorable. We hope you enjoy it.

Nancy Poli, Pig Farmer, Stryker Farms, Saylorsburg, PA.

Personal Work – A cure for what ails you

By Chris Crisman

Did anyone play the lottery this week? Our team certainly did and a $10 ticket turned out to be less about the chance of winning a gazillion decimal points. It became a time to share the possibilities of a future. Some of us would shut it down and coast, some of us would devise a plan to share the wealth and give back to everyone that could use it, some of us simply dreamt of just taking a break. It’s a tantalizing exercise to contemplate the opportunities you could have, the challenges that would arise, and just how you would find ways to balance it all.

We are approached to work on so many jobs and it is hard to deny the randomness to how each year shakes out for us. We try to move forward on as many opportunities as possible and they need to have the right values to do so. When looking back on a year we seem to strike the right balance of projects. To be able to find creative fulfillment and financial stability with our work. Sometimes we are presented with a special Unicorn project that we dream of working on but no matter how much we fight for the job it still gets away. Even though you think you have dominance of the situation, there will always be a number of variables that are out of your control. Embracing this reality has really kept me from going insane.

Another aspect of our work that helps balance the inevitable presence of impending insanity – personal work. It is as easy as putting a pin on a map. Just you and your camera traveling to beautiful locations can be unpredictable magic waiting to happen. 

 Alternatively, you can dedicate your time and other resources to hone in on exactly what it is you want to express; this is my preferred method. With these projects – or singular images – you can easily give you and your team back the control, vision, taste, and your calendar that often seems out of your hands.

It all sounds simple, but I still struggle. I struggle with the where, the when, and the how. I struggle with whether I am choosing the right concept or idea to focus on. Will the small detail of a coat on the guy actually ruin an otherwise perfect image? Above all else, I struggle with the why. If I make this picture, will anyone care? Will it inspire someone who sees it? Anyone? Beyond all else, is there a chance that this work could possibly change the way people see the world? I think about all of this with every project that I undertake – especially the ones where I am able to have complete control of the end result.

I’ve already mentioned embracing randomness- this idea goes both for things you can and can’t control. Alt-country artist Sturgill Simpson who was right when he said, “Some days you kill it, some days you just choke”. The reality in this sentiment rings clear for me. I won’t always be a winner, but If I keep my head down and focus clear, I will continue to find a balance throughout my career. One last thing, don’t spend more than $10 playing the lottery, even if I’m sayin’ there’s a chance.

A Taste of Honey

Christy Wihelmi

The natural fear of a stinging bee is a threat that we often face when retrieving our desired honey. This fear was not lost on our team when we were faced with the challenge of working with these tiny soldiers.  However, there are many different roles that bees have and the bees we often see are the foragers. They have a crucial role in the hive and in nature in general. It is their job to search up to a 3-mile radius to collect nectar from the surrounding flowers while simultaneously pollinating the area. The nectar is then brought back to the hive to produce honey. They are the bees we typically see flying in and out of a hive and it is those bees that co-starred with Christy Wihelmi on our shoot on Cal Poly Farm.

Christy in her own right is a keeper of bees. She is an avid gardener and has become the rescuer of bee swarms that develop in her community garden. The word “swarm” sounds overwhelming and terrifying but it is a natural instinct for bees.  Once the population grows too large for the hive, the colony divides. This process involves a new queen to develop and the old queen leaves to start a new home. A swarm is created when a gathering of bees surround the traveling queen. The bees are particular docile during this time and their sole goal is to protect the queen. At this time it is easy to handle them to relocate or just wear them on your face like a beard of bees.

Bee Bearded Man

Even with Christy’s bee handling knowledge, they are as unpredictable as the weather and they don’t follow direction very well. This is a challenge you face when working with animal talent.  That being said, we had a game plan, all of the techniques first developed by ancient Egyptians, and a lot of PMA (positive mental attitude) which is always a good start.

Robert Luessen wishing he wasn’t surrounded by bees

This project was especially challenging for Chris and Robert who both faced childhood trauma regarding bees. Under any other circumstances they would have been with the rest of the crew some distance away, but instead, the two had to suit up and get acquainted with our tiny stars.

With the on-set beekeeper managing the bees with perfectly timed puffs of smoke to subdue, we accomplished beautiful photos that inspire. There was only one stinging incident which, ironically happened to one of the far away crew members. When we finally wrapped, we left that day with new found respect for bees and the people who keep them.