Photograph by Sam Ritter
Photograph by Jason Jaacks
Birthplace: Denver, Colorado
Current City: Oakland, California
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I am very fortunate in that I always wanted to be an imagemaker and storyteller. I made my first few movies in elementary school and discovered photography in high school. Since then, it's been all about learning new ways of visual storytelling.
How did you get started in your field of work?
I started making photographs when I was 15. I loved being behind the camera, meeting people, and telling stories, and I pursued that through college. After graduating, I started a production company, Cordillera Productions, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Cordillera Productions has allowed me to make a living out of storytelling, and I've met some incredible people along the way.
What inspires you to dedicate your life to storytelling?
Storytelling is what binds us together—ever since Lascaux we've been using visual media to communicate with each other. I believe that photographs and films can impact people and change the way we relate to the world around us. My hope is to create media that challenges and inspires people to step back and reflect on what's happening around them. Being in the field as a witness and experiencing life in moments is incredibly life-affirming to me.
What's a normal day like for you?
What I love about what I do is it's constantly changing. I love being in the field and on the move meeting fascinating people and exploring new places. Those days are always long and challenging, but almost always worth it. When I'm not in the field, much of my time is spent chained to the desk either editing or preparing for the next shoot.
Do you have a hero and, if so, why is this person your hero?
There are imagemakers and storytellers that constantly push my own boundaries as a photographer and as a person. I love looking at work by Eugene Richards, Sebastiao Salgado, and Robert Frank. I think one of my biggest heroes is Reza. I don't know of a photographer alive today who focuses so clearly on human dignity. His strength as a photographer is awe inspiring!
What's been your favorite experience in the field? Most challenging?
Fieldwork can be very challenging, but that's why people do this work. My favorite experience happened the very first time I went to the Elwha River in Washington State. I spent a day walking from the mouth of the river five miles upstream to the first dam. It was foggy and drizzling and I saw salmon moving upriver for the first time—these gifts from the sea trying to return home. I'll never forget watching them hold in the river.
The most challenging experience in the field happened on a project on Native American rights and U.S.-Mexico border policy in Arizona. I walked across the international border into Mexico with members of the Tohono O'odham Nation. It wasn't the physicality of the walk, even though it was near 100 degrees. It was witnessing how the border wall had changed the landscape and the culture.
What are your other passions?
My passions all involve imagemaking to some degree, whether it's fly-fishing, skiing, or traveling.
What do you do in your free time?
I end up spending most of my time working, but the little time that I have free I spend with my two dogs, who are usually up for an adventure.
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