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

THAT ONE TIME WE WENT TO PRISON

A long narrow hallway lined with tiny barred cells enclosing angry men flinging obscenities is what we expected to find at a maximum security male prison. The entertainment industry depicts the American correctional system as a scary place. So, when we were given the opportunity to enter Oregon State Penitentiary we were filled with excitement and a bit of concern.

As you might have guessed, entering a prison is no easy task. There are several obstacles to navigate in order to be approved for entry. First off, background check for all members of the entire crew. Second, a thoroughly vetted equipment list. This list was scrutinized and whittled down three times. Each list included visuals of what was included. A location like this is only possible with the use of battery powered lights. Without them, it would be difficult to get down to three bags. 

The third obstacle was squeezing two portrait subjects into a tight schedule during the facility lockdown. We reviewed the Tour Guidelines for visitors which informed us of their hostage policy that states there are inherent risks in visiting a correctional facility. After several weeks of back and forth with Oregon State Penitentiary, everything was set and ready to go.

Oregon State Penitentiary is nestled in the sleepy town of Salem. Driving through the town you wouldn’t expect a maximum security prison would live just up the road. If there was a maximum security prison, you wouldn’t expect it to be lined with large, lush trees and meticulously maintained landscaping. The stark difference from the picturesque greenery and the castle-like exterior of the prison is striking. We stood on the steps of the Oregon State Penitentiary with nothing but our gear, our IDs and just a little bit of nerves.

Once inside we went through a series security checkpoints. Every step of the process was efficient. The staff was friendly and helpful through it all. We quickly moved to our first location and set up to shoot in cell block D. Once we were in the heart of the facility, it was evident how calm and quiet space it was. Unlike our chaotic expectations, we felt comfortable in the space. Of course, there was a bit of excitement buzzing around, we were a photo crew, something completely out of the ordinary. Even with our unusual presence the men lounged in their brightly colored cells patiently waiting for the lockdown to end.

Our first subject was Megan Lowe, a Corporal Correction Officer at OSP. She began her career at the Oregon State Correctional Institution (OSCI) in 2014. She was inspired by her father to follow a career in correction. Megan’s petite frame was weighed down by the required gear but her presence was enormous. Watching her walk down the block you saw her confident control in the space. She was one of the reasons we felt so safe there. She provides the order needed for peace.

We spent a few short but fulfilling moments with Megan. She allowed us to collaborate in her domain and we could not have asked for a smoother experience. Wrapping up in the housing block it was time to pack up and move on to our next location to meet Patrice, another staff member of OSP.  She is also doing amazing things but that is another story for another time.

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

Lisa Calvo – Oyster Farmer

The sun had just begun to look over our shoulders as we approached the beach of Cape May Court House, NJ. Nature had beaten us to the punch on their morning assignments. Seagulls were flocking over their breakfast feast as the tide rolled away from the shore. There was a morning breeze that swirled and helped to offset the smell that was left behind. These were our first impressions upon arriving at Lisa Calvo’s oyster farm.

No matter who you are, there’s always a great sense of anticipation when you meet someone that up to that point you could only envision. The small cottage where Lisa stores all of the needed equipment blended in with the rest of the buildings on the paved but sandy beachfront street. Lisa was the first to greet us. One by one we met the rest of her crew – Patty Woodruff, Diane Driessen, and Sarah Borsetti quietly walked over with coffees in hand and sleepy eyes; a 6AM call time comes early for everyone. We muddled near the quaint cottage as both of our teams prepared for the work ahead. Once all needed supplies were loaded into the beach cart, we headed down to the water.

Lisa, Sarah, Diane, Chris, and Mike walking to the farm
Lisa and Chris amounts the rows of racks

As we waded through the knee-deep water of low tide, we approached a series of racks perched out on a sandbar. Each rack looked like a bed frame cut off just above the legs. Upon each rack was a layer of netted bags. Each bag contained an appropriate number of growing oysters. Different sections of racks accommodate oysters at varied stages of growth. Lisa’s team focused on a section comprised of matured oysters that were ready to harvest.

Netted bag holding oysters
Lisa, Patty and Sarah

After a short set up, the oyster team quickly fell into their familiar process. While standing around a metal table supported by sawhorses, they began to sort the oysters. Meanwhile, camera in hand, Chris transitioned into shooting mode. Using PVC piping as a gauge of size, the team divided the oysters into three buckets. One bucket was for ideal large oysters, one for less attractive large oysters, and one for those that needed more time for growth. The ideal large oysters go to market, small ones return to the algae covered bag and the ugly ones, well that day, we ate them!

Sorting oysters
Lisa, Sarah, Diane, Chris, and Mike
Chris enjoying an oyster

We spent the majority of our morning gaining a better understanding of the positive environmental impact of oysters. These uncanny bivalves are particularly efficient at cleaning the water they live and grow in. For instance, a single two-inch oyster can filter 50 gallons of water per day. That is 16,800 gallons of water filtered in one year. Their presence in southern New Jersey has not only improved our dinner menus but also the cleanliness of the waters enjoyed on its coast. Lisa and her team are making a significant impact and at the forefront of a thriving industry. We are grateful for the opportunity and education from a world that we were always curious about. Perhaps you can put yourself in our shoes the next time you order a dozen oysters from Cape May.

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.


Daveed Diggs Portraits

chris crisman daveed diggs hamilton portrait photo

When our editors at the New York Observer called with an opportunity to shoot a member of the award winning cast of the hit musical Hamilton, we couldn’t say no. We were lucky enough to spend an hour with Daveed Diggs, the actor and rapper currently playing both the roles of Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette.

chris crisman daveed diggs hamilton portrait photo

chris crisman daveed diggs hamilton portrait photo

We spent a morning shooting with Daveed Diggs at the Fraunces Tavern Museum in downtown Manhattan, coincidentally a historically significant location that the real Alexander Hamilton frequented during the 19th century. Couldn’t have asked for a better location.

chris crisman daveed diggs hamilton portrait photo

chris crisman daveed diggs hamilton portrait photo

chris crisman daveed diggs hamilton portrait photo

We owe a big thanks to our editors at the Observer for the opportunity and a thank you to the Fraunces Tavern Museum for providing such an awesome location. As always, we also owe a thank you to the team at PXL House for post-production and the final polish on theses shots.

Tickets may be close to impossible to get these days but head over to the official site for Hamilton to check out more info on the show. Also if you’re a Daveed Diggs fan, make sure to give him a follow on Instagram @daveeddiggs. Also make sure to head over to the Observer’s website to read their story on the star.

Questions, comments? Let us know your thoughts below or @crismanphoto and /crismanphoto.