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.

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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…

Intuit Quickbooks: “Own It”

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“Own It” – I can’t think of a better opening phrase for this blog post than the tagline of the campaign itself. We’re really excited to share some work we shot towards the end of 2014 for Intuit Quickbooks. Partnering with the amazing creatives at RPA, we brought a campaign to life featuring small business owners who embody the spirit of “owning it.”

Our production took us all over Los Angeles, shooting talent who included beekeepers animal veterinarians, and woodworkers. Two great shoot days with an awesome crew resulted in beautiful images that you can find in magazines and plastered on billboards throughout the country.

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It is definitely worth noting that our beekeeper shot was done entirely in camera. Sure we may have added a few extra bees in post, but they were all real – and so were the beekeeping suits.

When the rest of the crew cleared off set, Chris and yours truly donned full bee protection and got ready for a fast 30 minutes of shooting. It’s also worth noting here that making any kind of battery of CF card changes to a Phase One digital back while wearing padded beekeeping gloves is strongly not advised.

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You’d think the drama would have ended with the beekeeping shoot, but a little known fact about myself is that I’m actually scared of horses. No childhood trauma, no weird experiences, I just kinda don’t like how big or unpredictable they can be. I think this picture pretty much sums it up.

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Our second day of shooting brought us to an awesome private woodworking shop just north of LA. Naturally with woodworking, you need sawdust and haze to get the right look and feel. Judging by the BTS photos from that day… It was pretty hazy on set. This shoot is also responsible for Chris’s newfound love of hazer machines.

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With any project like this, we owe a big thank you to the awesome agency RPA for having us on-board to bring their concepts to life as well as our LA based crew – you guys totally rocked it.

Thanks for reading – make sure to check us out at @Crismanphoto on Instagram and /Crismanphoto on Facebook.