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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’re excited to announce a new collaboration with Captured52, an amazing resource for large format, fine art photography. Starting this Saturday, 2/13 our award winning Wild Horses photo will be available as an open edition 40×60” print. We’re honored to be part of an elite group of image makers that include Sandro Miller, David Burnett, Simon Vahala, Adam Senatori, and Alex Buisse.
Captured52 releases for sale one photograph per week, all printed and framed in stunning large format. Our image will be printed in the USA by a master printer on heavyweight matte Hahnemühle paper, embossed with the Captured52 seal, date-stamped and custom framed in solid wood, museum shadowbox frame. Our Wild Horses image will be available for $1,952.00 including shipping and a large format journal at the end of 2016 featuring images and text from every participating photographer.
Questions, comments? Let us know your thoughts below or @crismanphoto and /crismanphoto. Also make sure to keep up with @Captured52 on Instagram and Captured 52 on Facebook. The sale starts this Saturday 2/13 and will only be available for one week so act fast!
It’s that time of year again – time to take a moment and look forward at what opportunities and adventures await us in the coming weeks and months. Time to discuss and refine our team’s goals and ideals for the next 365 days, time to ask ourselves “what can we do differently, what can we do better this year? what can we create that will be new and different? How can we refine our craft?” Both practical and creative, we love to ask these questions and take even greater joy in answering them by creating new and inspiring images.
So what’s the plan for 2016? Isn’t it obvious?
Make new work. Make photographs and images that we’ve never seen before and create content that can embody our aesthetic and the ideas and vision of our clients. And as always, we’ll do our best to share.
Some images come together quickly while others take their time, changing and developing over weeks and months to be fully realized. Our hot air balloon photo definitely falls into the latter category; a photo that has been on Chris’s mind for quite some time and one that the team has been actively chasing since January of this year.
As with many great (or terrible) stories, this one starts in Las Vegas. In January of this year, we decided to finally pursue bringing Chris’s vision for a dynamic hot air balloon portrait to life – after some research and a few phone calls, we were booked for the weekend with special aerial access at a small hot air balloon festival in Mesquite NV, only a few hours north of Las Vegas. As far as we were concerned, this was our chance to shoot a sky full of balloons – the perfect background for this photo.
That weekend in Mesquite, our team learned a lot about the world of hot air ballooning. We learned tons of information on balloons, safety regulations, wind and weather patterns, proper chasing techniques – the list of ballooning lingo goes on.
Unfortunately, despite all this newfound knowledge, one thing we most definitely did not do though, was fly in a hot air balloon. After two mornings of 5:00am call times in the middle of the desert, we left Nevada empty handed due to high winds and unsafe flying conditions; it was a bust (despite and voodoo or magical efforts Chris may be making in the photo above… the wind was just not on our side).
Did we give up? Of course not. As soon as we landed back in Philadelphia, we were on the search for the next balloon festival we could line up.
In the meantime, we were also searching for a truly amazing landscape to serve as the backdrop for this photo. We knew the perspective needed to be shot from the sky, so what did we do? Made sure we were carrying our cameras with us on almost every flight. It just so happened that a seaplane flight in Alaska provided the appropriately epic landscape we were looking for
Finally in August we set our sights on a huge festival in New Jersey – flying up with dozens of balloons and shooting the whole time, we captured hundreds of photos from all angles. After discussing and sketching and planning the image for months, we all had a pretty good idea of the pieces we needed to shoot, but once the balloons all took off, it was honestly a bit of a free-for-all to shoot as much as we could. We’ve learned that hot air balloons are not exactly the most predictable type of vehicle.
Last but not least, all we needed were our models, and of course another hot air balloon to shoot them in. Surprisingly enough, this may have been the easiest part of the photo. We worked with Carter County Flights, a small family owned company local to Philadelphia to help us achieve the final piece to this photographic puzzle. All that was left to find two great models, dress them and shoot a few photos.
It may have taken almost a year to come together, but we’re so happy with this image – it’s not always applicable, but in this case the final product is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
When it’s all said and done, we owe a big thank you to everyone who helped bring this image to life: The fine folks at the Casablanca Resort in Mesquite NV, everyone at the NJ Festival of Ballooning, the various members of our team who traveled, assisted, or helped shoot parts of this image, and of course our very talented models from Reinhard Philadelphia. Thanks all!