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?
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.
Ready! Set! Black Friday! When the last plate is cleared from the Thanksgiving table that is when some of us start knocking out that Christmas list. If you are like most of us you do a lot of your shopping while sitting on your couch. You quickly swipe through items to purchase and with a touch of your finger your list is complete. But, how do you find unique presents for someone equally unique? Well, we recommend Peg and Awl. A Philadelphia based company owned by wife and husband duo Margaux and Walter Kent. Their shop from the heart has a wonderful catalog of carefully crafted standout items. Each item created out of repurposed material. They rescue neglected treasures and reinvent them into products that can be used in your everyday life.
As you might have guessed, Peg and Awl was a shop from the heart. Born out of the need for Margaux and Walter to create. Their individual passions came together to bring Peg and Awl to life. At first, it was for themselves but then quickly became something for everyone. The practical objects like Waxed Canvas Tote or The Marlowe Lunch Bag ( a few of us in the office have one!) have become popular staples that fit well into everyday life. After asking around the office we created the team’s must-have list! We hope you enjoy our picks.
Apothecary Cabinet A long time ago I realized I need to go vertical with my storage. I just have too much stuff. The beautiful Apothecary Cabinet adds unique shelving to any wall in your house. Its versatile design allows me to place it anywhere. It could go in the kitchen and hold all of my spices. It could live on my bedroom wall and store all of my aromatherapy oils… I told you I have a lot of stuff!
Noel Pattani, Production Coordinator
Bathtub Caddy After several days on the road (which just happened), there is nothing that can set you right again then a hot, relaxing soak with a glass of tasty wine. The Bathtub Caddy keeps your glass and scented candle safe and dry as you dunk your head under the water to hide from the world.
Robert Luessen, Producer
All Black Weekender
Between work and my hobbies I find myself throwing my life into a bag. The All Black Weekender makes travel a little bit easier. Its versatile shape allows for easy storage. We all know how crammed overhead compartments can be. This durable duffle bag is meant to endure years of seeing the sights. I picture me and this bag aging well together.
Micheal Ryan, Photography Assistant
Shanty Man Log Carrier
When I first saw a log carrier product, there was a bit of smh. As I’ve previously communicated, I grew up in the woods. I’ve been cutting firewood since kindergarten and I love the entire process. Nighttime gatherings of firewood have once again begun at our house. The general idea of grabbing wood from outside, carrying it in, and stacking it inside was feeling a bit off. You can only carry so much before you’re cradling it against your body. In the end, you’re either with a dirty shirt or a cold house from too many small log runs. Now I get it – I really need this Peg and Awl log carrier. Actually… I just ordered it.
I’m not sure if it’s the food or the festivities, but Thanksgiving has always held the top spot on my list of holidays. There’s something that resonates for me about bringing together people to share a meal without the pretense of gift-giving or extracurricular celebration. It also helps that Thanksgiving is by far the best eating and drinking holiday on the calendar.
Not that I have a ton of free hours in the day to devote to holiday preparations, but I always manage to carve out (pun intended) the time to devote to cooking a feast for my friends and family. These coveted seats at the table have no shortage of fine wine or tasty cuisine. Years ago, long before I helmed the entire Thanksgiving dinner I cut my teeth by helping in the kitchen.
Naturally helping in the kitchen came with a drink. For as long as I can remember, at the start of every Thanksgiving, my aunt or uncle would mix up a batch of Poinsettias to get the day started. I wish I knew the origin of this drink to my family’s holiday. I have a sneaking suspicion it falls into the same category of all well revered holiday mainstays; someone started it, no one can remember who or why, and nobody cares. Thanksgiving morning isn’t itself without one:
1 oz Vodka
3 oz Cranberry Juice
1/2 cup Champagne
1 strip Orange Zest
Combine ice, vodka, and cranberry juice in a rocks glass. Stir to chill and top with champagne. Garnish with orange zest. Enjoy and refresh a maximum of two times before dinner, no more, no less.
That said, sometimes the holidays can feel more like a marathon than a sprint. Whether it’s days stuck at home with family whom you may not agree politically or socially, or you’re actually busting your butt to cook two Thanksgiving dinners for almost 40 people in 72 hours (something I may be all too familiar with and everything is fine). Multi-day affairs in my opinion call for either a lower octane option like beer or an easy drinking lower alcohol option like an aperitif. A drink that will waft you through the day (or multiple) without regret. Take it easy and try a Lillet Highball:
Rosemary Lillet Highball
2 oz Lillet Blanc
1 sprig Rosemary
Combine ice and Lillet in a collins glass. Stir to chill and top with soda water. Garnish with a rosemary sprig. Keep on refreshing this and you’re good to go.
Despite my calls for moderation and pacing, I can’t argue that at the end of the evening there is always time for brown liquor. Once the desserts have been served and the dishes are washed then it’s time to break out the good stuff. Below are some of my recommendations for after meal sippers
One should always save room for the last sip of the night.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.