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.

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.

Liberating the Lands

Anna Valer Clark

When Anna Valer Clark first arrived at South East Arizona, a place she would call home, her first question was “What do the cows eat, rocks?” The land she stood on was exhausted and the only thing thriving in the unfortunate barren landscape was the tiny rocks scattered across the view. She had left her life as a New York City socialite to become a Permaculturalist. She wanted to stimulate or directly utilize the patterns and features observed in the natural ecosystem to revive the terrain.  She saw the potential of the land and dreamt of restoring it back to its original grandeur. Many years of poor management, over-grazing, and logging in the hills had left the earth unable to hold the rainfall causing monsoons like floods and severe erosion.

Valer believes where there is water there is life and with barely any life remaining on her land the key was to avoid further damage. She realized she could hinder the erosion and capture water in the hills by putting rock dams across the places that been affected in hopes to return this area to its former glory.

 As she suspected the areas where the dams were established prevented further devastation. The soil did not wash away and that gave the native plants an opportunity to grow roots and thrive.

With each year the natural vegetation grew and established itself with vigor. To see the lands today one could not conceive that this was once a place of dust and sun-soaked earth. Anna Valer Clark has brought back balance to her lands and the harmony is magnificent.

My life has been a continuation of applying these same principles of harvesting water, revegetation of the land, and the restoration of water to dry areas. My mission has been to take severely degraded land and restore it. If one can accomplish this under the seemingly impossible conditions, then one can do it anywhere.

Anna Valer Clark

Do you want to know what I did last summer?

I’ve always felt connected to trees. I grew up surrounded by them and being an only child in a relatively remote area, I will always call them my friends. We heated our home with wood throughout the duration of my childhood. The interesting part of that is that we never cut down a living tree. You see, my father had the responsibility of managing a large forest parcel adjacent to our land which was owned by a family that lived about 300 miles away from us. They chose to have this land logged twice during my upbringing. When a tree is harvested, the loggers are usually only interested in the stock of the tree. what’s left behind is a normally a very significant part of the tree consisting of a variety of small to large limbs.

Titusville, Pa

In the spring of 2016, I was back home visiting my folks with my son, Calvin. One afternoon, Calvin and I decided to go on a long walk of exploring on my parents’ property. The great motivation for my son was to search for salamanders near our creek, Indian Run. On the way back from the creek I saw what I thought was a large fallen tree in the distance. We navigated closer to find an enormous Red Oak that had rotted near its base and had been forced to the forest floor by a significant wind storm.

Fallen tree and Calvin for size

My first impression of this fallen giant was its sheer enormity. It really was quite big and it appeared to have taken down another dozen trees in its descent. Another thing I noticed quickly was how beautifully clean it was for about the first 20 feet from the ground. After a few minutes of admiring the tree and of course taking some photos of the monster,  I decided to head back home and engage my father on our find.

Dad and Calvin examining the Red Oak

My dad was certainly interested in the tree and had a vague recollection of hearing an enormous crash in the woods a few months prior. He journeyed back out with us to examine the tree and he realized that this was the largest tree on his property.

Dad next to a cutting of the Red Oak

Fantasizing for a moment, I told him that I thought this tree could be preserved and given a second life through milling and repurposing the slabs, boards, or any other way you might want to craft it. He agreed and we wasted no time in beginning a process that one could only describe as a labor of love.

Fallen giant

You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you a story about cutting up a tree.  Well, over the past decade I’ve found that diversifying my creative outlets has always led to growth in my photography and it’s creative expression.  The clearest example of this was in 2008 when the economy went through the great recession. Business slowed and instead of sitting around and waiting for the phone to ring, my wife and I chose to renovate our kitchen and the first floor of our house. Through this process, I was forced to make design decisions in a creative realm that was quite foreign to me. With my wife as a guiding light, I was forced to have an opinion on everything we chose to create in that house. I began to reflect on how those decisions could influence my photography and the design that it was packaged within. The tree milling process is quite similar and will force me to learn and grow in a creative space that is foreign to me.

Julianna

Back to what we actually did this summer. In a perfect world, this tree would have fallen on level ground that was easily accessible by a log skidder. In reality, this tree was on a hillside and if I wanted to drag it out of the woods I would at least need to take out a dozen healthy trees to drag it out of the woods. I hated that idea. Being someone who is willing to compromise, compelled to follow through on a goal, and always up for a challenge I decided to find a way. The solution was a chainsaw with a very long bar and a contraption known as a Granberg Alaskan Mill.

Alaskan Mill Starter Kit

As you can see, this device looks something like a metal shop experiment gone wrong. It really was the right solution. 

Handling this machine is nothing short of grueling. It took me about an hour to cut each of the 8 slabs you see. My body was wrecked after just one cut and I made a number of mistakes along the way. 

After milling the last slab of the first of two major chunks of the tree, my father and I still had to get the slabs out of the woods. Fortunately, my father has always owned a reliable tractor and a much more reliable trailer. Gravity helped us the most at this stage of the game and after about 5 hard hours of difficult labor, we finally got these 14’ beasts out of the woods.

Dad with his trusty trailer

The process has been quite rewarding. I still have a long road to go in finishing the conversion process, but when it happens I will surely be proud to show off the results.

Calvin and the 14′ cuts of the Red Oak

To be continued…

Montana with Field and Stream

Historically, the flow of our year is defined by travel. The summertime usually provides a few breaks to spend some extra time with our families and that time at home to recoup is essential to our well being. However, when Field & Stream proposed an opportunity to work with Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, all of that R&R was out the window. After a month long of uncertainty, our schedules aligned and we boarded a plane to Montana, ready to embark on an experience of a lifetime.

Yvon Chouinard

We set forth on our adventure through the beautiful landscape of Montana and we were pumped, to say the least. Thanks to Field & Stream we were on our way to spend two days fishing with Yvon and Kenton Carruth, Co-founder of First Lite Outfitters. Kenton is one of the nicest guys you could meet and if you are not familiar with THE Yvon Chouinard, then google him. We’ll wait… These two men live out life with a love of the outdoors as a guiding force. They both created clothing companies that cater to those who share that love of the wilderness. We traveled from Philadelphia, Pa to Augusta, Mt to spend some time in this majestic place and help tell the story of national public lands and the challenge to their future as a thriving place for future generations to enjoy.

On the road to Augusta, Mt

The plan was to meet in Augusta at Buckhorn Bar at 6PM. When we arrived at the quaint town, we noticed piles of sandbags scattered outside some local businesses. The town had recently experienced some seasonal flooding. The excessive amount of rain would show itself useful later in this tale. 


Augusta, MT

We arrived at Buckhorn Bar, passing under a pair of mounted horns as we entered. We walked into the dimmed lit neighborhood watering hole and found everyone already there with a beer in hand ready to eat. Fried chicken, the house specialty, was the cuisine of choice for the evening. Over a pint of beer and a basket of chicken, we began to get acquainted.

Buckhorn Bar

Once our bellies were full and thirst quenched, it was time to fish.  We hopped in our trucks and headed off to a nearby lake in Fairfield. Driving down a dusty dirt road, we chased the sun in hopes to take a few pictures before the day ended.  We made it with only a few moments left of daylight.

Fairfield, Mt
Fairfield, Mt

Yvon was the first to pull his fly rod out and began doing what he came to Montana to do. At the same time, with his tool of choice, Chris began documenting the gorgeous moment we were experiencing. 

Yvon 
Chris and Yvon

Unfortunately, the sun didn’t stick around and we were left to enjoy the tranquillity of our surroundings. Once the warm rays safely tucked themselves behind the mountains, we too packed up. Our shelter for the evening would be one of the few private hunting lodges inside Bob Marshall Wilderness. With an early morning ahead, we quickly settled into slumber.

Chris, Kenton Carruth, Hal Herring, Yvon, and Ryan Callaghan

6am arrived quickly and soon enough we were on the road again, this time to the South Fork of Sun River. Normally the water levels of the desired location run low. However, the recent flooding allowed us to travel by boat with ease. 

South Fork of Sun River
South Fork of Sun River

The seldom fished pools just above the Gibson Reservoir provide anglers a perfect scenario; low fishing pressure and a heavenly backdrop. The blissfully ice cold water was bustling with rainbow, cutthroat and brook trout. The fish in that section of the Sun River were not large but they were hungry and striking every fly that hit the water.

Kenton and Chris
Chris and Yvon

When you stand in the steady crystal clear current, looking around at the perfection of nature, you understand why Yvon and Kenton passionately feel the need to preserve and improve our public lands. The idea that future generations could be deprived of these experiences is epically tragic.  

Yvon and Garret Smith

Yvon uses his voice and resources to advocate for and protect our public spaces. His firm stance against the current White House’s policy to reduce National Monuments caught him locking horns with Utah Rep. Rob Bishop. Bishop called to his constituents and fellow Republicans to boycott Patagonia. What Bishop didn’t realize was that those he was calling to arms were outfitters and the boycott request had the exact opposite effect. Patagonia’s sales increased by 600 percent that month.

There are people in this country with plenty of funds that want to end public lands. They wish to divvy up the open space to private owners, which would keep hunters and fisherman at bay. This is not how Yvon and Kenton had envisioned our nation’s public lands in the future. They value a life experiencing the outdoors quite similar to that of Theodore Roosevelt.

“The beauty and charm of the wilderness are his for the asking, for the edges of the wilderness lie close beside the beaten roads of the present travel.”

Theodore Roosevelt
Yvon and Kenton 

On a personal note, our very own Mike Ryan was personally mentored by Yvon and caught his first ever trout on this trip of a lifetime. These memories have fueled his new found passion for this leisurely sport. 

Yvon and Mike
Mike and his Trout

Sophia Davis – Montana Cowgirl

On a beautiful summer day in mid- July, we traveled to Springdale, MT to spend the day with Sophia Davis, a genuine cowgirl. Sophi and her family manage and live on Lone Star Land and Cattle Company.  Our early morning drive towards the sun led us to what seemed like an endless dirt road. The conditions were arid and a trail of dust followed us for almost an hour. By the time we made it to Sophi our car was covered in an adventure appropriate coating of dust. 

After an anticipated meet and greet, we headed out to wrangle the cattle. With Mike at the wheel of a Polaris and Chris sprawled across the back bed, we followed. It was Mike’s maiden voyage as an ATV driver so you can imagine the communication with Chris was hindered. Mike was driving on rough terrain while Chris gave his best attempt at managing the camera and directing Mike.


Working so closely with these gentle giants was quite exhilarating. We watched, navigated, and photographed as Sophi weaved back and forth to maintain their forward progress. All of this in spite of these cattle clearly not excited about our foreign presence. In hindsight, it’s clear that managing us was much more challenging for Sophi than were the cattle.

Once Chris was satisfied with what he had shot, Sophi seamlessly returned the cattle to their pens and we all broke for lunch. We ventured into the town of Livingston for a quick bite. Livingston is a famous town that now is becoming a bit of a high west hot spot.

Before we returned to Sophi we took a few moments to explore some of the 50,000-acres of Lone Star Land and Cattle Co. property.  Traveling under the big blue skies one finds themselves in awe of spectacular views. The vastness of the plains was only interrupted by small herds of pronghorns feeding amongst the grass.

Pronghorn Antelope

When we reunited with Sophi she was accompanied by her two delightful children (Ella, 4 and Hunter, 2). With their help, we were given a thorough tour of the ranch and its inner workings. Following this, it was time to make our way towards the final stage of our adventure.

Sophi and Hunter
Chris and Ella

At one corner of the ranch was a field dotted with freshly cut & baled hay. If you grew up outside of the city, it’s always nostalgic to see these scattered across a monumental landscape. With Sophi mounted on her trusty steed, Lucy, we began to shoot. It was certainly one that we wish hadn’t ended so soon.

Montana is a spectacular space to exist in. With a terrain that only ends at grand and majestic mountains. Above in the sky, the clouds dance effortlessly. The depth of its beauty is breathtaking. It was an honor and a pleasure to capture the breadth of the landscape around us.