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.

Cursed Amongst the Corn

By Noel Pattani

No one ever believes me! When I talk about what I saw everyone thinks I’m just a crazy old man who has lost his mind. I usually wouldn’t waste my breath on retelling the tale but you are here so I should just tell you what happened and you can decide for yourself.

I have lived and worked this land my whole life, the last of 7 generations. We have always been farmers and I am the only one left. We took care of the land and the land took care of us. I was born in the bedroom right off of the kitchen. The youngest of 4 siblings. From the moment I could walk I was feeding the chickens, helping any way I could. The comfortability of the routine quickly became my standard of life. My family worked together like a well-oiled machine. Each person had a specific role needed to keep the farm running smoothly. Then one night when I was 6… everything changed.

I was in bed when a sharp light struck me in the face from my window. The unusual light was something that I had never seen before. It was a light that filled the room but there wasn’t any light outside. To this day I still don’t know where it came from. Oddly enough I wasn’t afraid. Instead, I was curious, uncontrollably so. I had to know what was causing this phenomenon. I quickly put on my galoshes and coat to protect me from the late night chill as I went to explore outside. The moment I stepped out into the cold evening I felt a pull towards our fields. It literally felt like a line was attached to my pelvis and with quick forceful pulls, I was tugged along. Finally, when the need to mindlessly move ceased, I found myself surrounded by stalks of corn and silence. I quietly looked around to determine why I was in the field. There was nothing, not even a breeze. Just a still cornfield. Then the light had returned. It was harsh, relentless, and overwhelming. I was paralyzed left helpless and terrified. I could feel a foreign energy fill my tiny body. The force vibrated through me like a jolt of lightning. The intense sensation quickly became too much to handle and with a whimper, I blacked out.

The morning rooster woke me laying on top of my messy bed. I frantically searched around my room looking for evidence of what happened last night. My only evidence of last night was a piece of a blue fabric clutched in my right hand. I remember the swatch felt so important to me and radiated a comforting warmth. After dressing for the day I carried the precious piece down to breakfast. The family gathered around our large wooden kitchen table but someone was missing. My older sister, Sarah, her seat was left empty. My mother told me to investigate and I quickly sprinted up the steps to stop at Sarah’s room. I gently rubbed the soft blue fabric in my hand as I hesitated from fear of what was behind the door. I slowly opened it with a familiar creak. I would hear that noise everytime Sarah left her room and it was the first time I heard it that today. Entering the room I teased her about being late for breakfast “Sarah! Wake up sleepy head!” She was laying in her bed with her back to the door and I quietly called her name. Still she didn’t move. I walked over to the bed to shake her awake when I noticed her blue nightgown. I looked down at the fabric in my hand and knew where it came from. I reached out to touch Sarah and found her cold to the touch as if all of her warmth was in the tiny fabric in my trembling hand. I rolled her over to find an expression of open-eyed horror.

The autopsy said that Sarah died of asphyxiation but I knew the truth. It was the light. But at the time I had my doubts until the light came back when I was 13. The next day I woke with a white piece of fabric and my brother Thomas dead. Asphyxiation. The summer I turned 15 the light came back. I awoke with a gray piece of fabric in hand and Stephen, my last sibling, died. Asphyxiation. The light once again came back, I was 25. When I rose the next day with a piece of my mother’s nightgown and I knew it was just me and Pa. The only two survivors of the relentless light that had picked off my entire family for unknown reasons. The last time the light visited me was when I was 45. Unlike every time before when I would wake up in my own bed this time I found myself standing in the middle of the cornfield. In my right hand was a piece of my father’s nightshirt. It was then that I knew I was alone. My entire family was stolen and I am to blame. While watching the sun climbing up the sky I realized the truth. I am the light and the light is me.

Reflections on the Road

Thoughts from an assistant on making the most of working on location

It’s hard to choose a place to begin when I reflect on all of the incredible experiences and opportunities I’ve encountered since joining up with the Crisman team a year and a half ago. Prior to working with Chris & Robert (and now Noel), I wouldn’t have described myself as ‘well-traveled’ but I’ve been lucky enough to take a few international trips and I’ve walked away from each one with a new found appreciation for the beautiful and vast possibilities traveling holds.

Copper Mountain, CO

The priority is always the project at hand and making the best work possible. But one of the many benefits of working with these guys has been their passion for exploring the culture and cuisine of each and every place the job takes us. That passion has had a trickle-down effect and functions as a constant reminder of the importance of staying open to new experiences and maintaining a fresh perspective while on the road.

Beale St. Memphis, TN

Everything from small towns to big cities hold culinary gems if you know where to look. Research should always start with boots on the ground. Do you have a friend in the area? Is there a local producer or crew member you worked with in the past? Give them a shout, for these can be some of your most valuable resources.

Sophi Davis Hunters Hot Springs, Montana

If I had to pick a favorite location it would be Montana hands down. I was absolutely blown away by Montana’s beauty. That and the fact that we got to spend 2 days with climbing legend and Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, fishing crystal clear backcountry alpine lakes didn’t hurt either. It was definitely a life-changing trip for me and both reignited my lust for the outdoors and introduced me to the world of fly fishing.

Yvon Chouinard

I continue to be amazed by the places I find myself through this work and the many awesome and talented collaborators I have the pleasure of working with. Whether the job is a small editorial assignment with Chris and I or a large, multi-city ad job with a crew in the double digits, each project has a story and each story helps informs how I approach the next.

Park Hill Poultry, Erin NY

Stand ins

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…

Meejin Yoon – Architect and Designer

Women’s Work began with a suggestion to Chris while out to lunch in NYC with an Art Buyer friend of his. She suggested that he meet this interesting woman named Heather. Heather Marold Thomason, the infamous butcher, was the first subject for Women’s Work. This is how many of the subjects we have included in this project have been introduced to us. Someone approaches us with “I know someone who would be perfect for Women’s Work”. That is just the way we were introduced to Meejin Yoon.

Meejin Yoon

We are in a perpetual search for more women that would be inspiring additions to our ongoing project. Sometimes someone is found when you ask the right questions to the right person. Neri Oxman was the connection for us to finding Meejin Yoon. Neri is an architect, designer, and professor at the MIT Media Lab. We had the pleasure of working with her in 2012 on a cover shoot for Wired UK Magazine. During a back and forth email exchange regarding her interest in working together again, Neri suggested her friend Meejin. As an architect, designer, the first female head of MIT’s Department of Architecture, and on January 1, 2019, she will be the new Dean of Cornell University College of Architecture. She will be the school’s first woman in that position in its 122-year history. Meejin is a dream candidate for Women’s Work. She first hit our radar in 2010 with her Light Drift installation. The project placed temporary interactive lighting along Schuylkill Banks in Philadelphia. The installation could be seen from blocks away and the illumination drew in the public like a moth to a flame.

Light Drift – Photo from Philadelphia Mural Arts

While chatting about the project we learned that Meejin also needed some personal photos done for a mid-July deadline. After some discussions of schedule, we landed in Boston for a day trip on July 17th. Planning on a one day shoot in Boston with multiple possible locations would require us to get out the door extra early. The team met at Philadelphia International Airport at 5:15am and by 6:45am we had boarded, waiting to take off. The only concern we had was the weather. When you plan on shooting outside it truly is a roll of the dice as to whether or not you will have beautiful skies.

After a short sleepy flight we arrived at Logan International airport and once bags were loaded in our rental car, we were ready to meet up with Meejin. Our first location was at Höweler + Yoon Architecture firm. In 2005, Meejin and her husband, Eric Höweler, founded their design-driven architecture practice and creative studio. They believe that design is an instrument for imagining and implementing change – social, cultural, technological, and environmental. Located in Boston’s Chinatown, their office, which was formerly their home, has been through some changes since they started. When we arrived they were in the midst of growing and expanding their space again. It is always a pleasure to enter a new creative space. The walls were covered with past and future projects, while 3D models sat on communal tables. An entire wall of shelves, filled with colorful books, laid waiting, ready to inspire. To avoid being too much of a distraction to the quietly working staff we got down to set up for some portrait shots near the front open area of the office away from everyone. With a straightforward concept, we were able to bust through the shot list. We were ready to move onto our next location at the Collier Monument in MIT’s campus in hopes of beating the inevitable rain.

Mike Ryan, Meejin, and Chris

Collier Monument was completed by Höweler + Yoon in 2014 in memory of Officer Sean Collier. Three days after the Boston marathon bombing the 27-year-old MIT patrol officer was shot and killed by the two suspects while on duty. The Collier Memorial is located at the site of the tragedy and is composed of thirty-two blocks of granite that form a five-way stone vault that resembles an open hand referencing MIT’s motto, Mens et Manus (Mind and Hand).

Meejin

With an impending grey sky looming above us, we built our necessary equipment and began to shoot. The Collier Memorial is an inspiring space. What we learned was that it was even more mystical when the rain pours onto the dynamic structure.

The sky literally opened up and dumped buckets of water on our heads. We rushed to Ray and Maria Stata Center for shelter.

Chris

Once the rain transitioned from a torrential downpour to a light drizzle, we headed back out to shoot a bit longer.

Noel Pattani, Meejin, and Chris

As everyone knows, cameras do not work well in the rain. So even though the precipitation had slowed down it was still a risk. To help keep Chris and his camera dry, our producer Noel held an umbrella over him for protection from the elements.

Noel and Chris

Meejin was a complete delight during this difficult portion of our day. To ask someone to sit in the rain and look as if they aren’t getting rained on is challenging. We could not have asked for a better subject and after a few different shots, we called it.

We had a third location which was also outside at the construction site for Meejin’s newest project located on the MIT campus. We decided to break for lunch in hopes of the rain would pass. Coming to the end of our meal the rain only got heavier and unfortunately, Meejin had to return to work. We thanked her for spending most of her day with us and parted ways.

When we headed to the airport there was a palpable a sense of accomplishment for such a productive day. We had a successful shoot even though we weren’t able to fit in the last location. After checking our bags and clearing security we headed to our gate. Once we arrived, we snagged a few lobster rolls. As we sat there enjoying our tasty treats an announcement was made declaring that our flight would be delayed due to the unfortunate heavy rain. The initial delay stretched out to four hours. Our long day had now evolved into a never-ending marathon. It wasn’t until around midnight that we heard the sweet sounds that our flight was boarding. With tired eyes and a mild buzz, we gathered our bags and made our way onto the plane back home. We don’t love same day round trips but sometimes you get the opportunity to work with someone so special that it is clearly the right call.

MGM: Rivea Restaurant & Chef Bruno Riou

There are very few moments that a restaurant kitchen is quiet. It is a living thing that thrives on high-energy, passion, and creativity. A highly functional kitchen will feed many people delicious and memorable food every night with each plate prepared with care and love.

In the heart of Rivea Restaurant is where you will find Executive Head Chef Bruno Riou. With a decade of experience working with Alain Ducasse in London, he seized an opportunity to run is own kitchen in Las Vegas at miX and then in 2015 at Rivea restaurant.

One of the challenges a photo crew working in a kitchen is that a photo crew isn’t supposed to be in a kitchen. The space is created for the chefs to work as efficiently as possible. To successfully work with each other like well oiled machines is a requirement for a kitchen and photo team alike. With that in mind we danced about the stainless steel maze photographing Bruno at work.

But what is better with a meal than a perfect pair glass of wine. Somellier Matthew George manages one of the largest wine cellars in Las Vegas that consists of 8500 bottles of 1700 different label selections.

Same as the kitchen, a wine cellar is not meant for a photo crew. There was once again a need for creative collaboration to capture the grandness of the space.

With a few climbing of ladders and Chris wedging himself in an automated sliding door. At the end of the day, we made beautiful photos, worked with great people, and had a wonderful time in Las Vegas