Friday, September 24, 2010

The Exhibit Opens!

Six months.  Hundreds of hours on the river.  Tens of thousands of shutter clicks.  Twenty six young transformed into master nature photographers.  It all culminates today in the opening of the "In a New Light" photo exhibit at the National Park Service visitor center in St. Croix Falls.  Please come and witness the story.  The exhibit will be in St. Croix Falls until October 25, when it will then proceed on its journey to Wausau, Madison, Cable, and Spooner.  CLICK HERE to read the press release for more information.   

The last several weeks have been a whirlwind of activity as we have prepared for the exhibit, and the kids have handled every step of the process.  Take a look at their journey. 

-Ben Thwaits, Project Leader

 Black Iris Gallery and Custom Framing owner JoAnn Martin shows the boys that math actually comes in handy in real life.  JoAnn and Bill LaPorte of Black Iris graciously opened their shop to us and taught us the secrets of professional matting and framing. They were incredibly patient, kind, and helpful through every step of the process. 

Knee-deep in frames.

Chris puts some elbow grease into the mat cutter. 

Bill LaPorte teaches Cody the finer points of dust removal.

Dakota is looking quite comfortable next to the "Professional Picture Framers Association" apron. 

Cody measures out frame locations on the St. Croix River Visitor Center wall. 

NPS staff Jeff Carlstrom and Jon Books stand with Kayden and Cody (looking tired but fulfilled) after a day spent hanging the exhibit. Job well done, gentlemen. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Busily at Work

Although it's been a few weeks since the last blog post, the cameras have been busily at work.  In the meantime, we have started preparations for a large photography exhibit that will be installed at the NPS St. Croix Falls visitor center on September 24.  Be sure to stop by!  The exhibit will later travel to Wausau, Madison, Cable, and Spooner. Stay tuned for details. 

We extend a special thanks to craftsman Steven Zimmerman of Duluth, who just put the finishing touches on handmade oak frames in which the photos will be displayed.  Each frame is a work of art in itself.

In a couple weeks, we'll be heading to Black Iris Gallery in Spooner for a day of matting and framing our photos under the instruction of professional framer JoAnn Martin.  We'll post photos from our day at the gallery.

In the midst of all the exhibit planning, we are still finding time to seek refuge in the peaceful comfort of the Riverway, cameras in hand.  Below are a few photos from the last couple weeks.

-Ben Thwaits, Project Leader

"This photo made me have a whole new perspective on this creature.  I would have normally thought it's just a silly frog.  But if you really look at it, and feel it looking back at you, it's a beautiful creature." Photo called "A New Perspective" by Cody, age 16. 

  "I like this picture because it's in really good focus, and I remember having to sneak up on it step by step to get really close."  Photo called "Butterfly in the Leaves" by Jordan, age 17.

"This picture is half scary and half beautiful at the same time."  Photo called "Snake on the Shore" by Logan, age 12

"These flowers are nice.  They stick out like myself.  And they're small, but they have a lot of potential." Photo called "Potential" by Chris, age 15.

"I like this picture because it looks like this toad is playing hide and seek."  Photo called "Hiding Toad" by Kayden, age 14

Monday, August 9, 2010

45 Degrees of Gratitude

"Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after." – Henry David Thoreau

This past Friday, fly fishing guides Tom Bowers and Jeff Butler of 45 Degrees North Fly Fishing Company donated a day of guided fishing and nature photography on the St. Croix River to two In a New Light participants. While the boys caught beautiful smallmouth bass and captured amazing photos, the day turned out to be about something much more profound than fish and photos. It was about the way the boys hung on to every word the guides spoke, and how their faces cemented into perpetual grins. It was about the sense of solemn reverence Tom and Jeff expressed toward the river, and the passionate way they extolled its beauty and our need to protect it. It was about the meditative, rhythmic hum of line cutting through air as the boys became conductors of their own fly rod sonatas. At the hands of a river and two of its sages, a couple young lives were forever changed. What an incredible gift. Thank you Tom, Jeff, and Kathy.

Jordan and Nick with the 45 Degrees North family before hitting the water.  Their hospitality was heartwarming.

Nick uses his photographic mastery to capture Jordan's emerging fly casting mastery.

"It was amazing" said Jordan.  "It would be pretty cool if I could be a fly fishing guide someday."  He goes on to explain, "There is something different about flyfishing.  It's not just about hauling fish in like regular fishing.  There is something much more calming about it."   Photo by Nick, age 15. 

Guide Jeff Butler explains the finer points of bass poppers. 

Nick and Jeff celebrate Nick's first fish on a flyrod.  Nick's knees were shaking for literally an hour after the battle.  "I have to figure out how to buy a fly rod as soon as possible.  I can see doing this for the rest of my life," Nick explained.

Guide and 45 Degrees North owner Tom Bowers sends the boys away with parting words of wisdom.  Notice the grins. 

Friday, July 30, 2010

Elusive Quarry

Badgers are mysterious.  Despite their ubiquitous presence in Wisconsin sports culture, these shy creatures are rarely seen in the wild.  For this reason, wild badgers seem to carry with them an almost mythical aura shared by the likes of wolves and mountain lions.  And a badger's paradoxical personality of extreme shyness and extreme ferocity helps add to the mythology.  This week, we broke through the myth.  On an excursion to the Dry Landing area of the Upper St. Croix, we got a fleeting glimpse of a badger as it ventured out of it's burrow to check us out.  Thanks to a steady hand and quick trigger finger, Jordan was able to capture a photo.  It was a thrilling experience for everyone.  Below are also some other photos from this week. 

-Ben Thwaits, project leader

"When I first saw the badger, I was amazed and very excited.  Once I captured the photo, I started to think of how much it's like me.  It spends most of its time burrowed in its hole hiding from the world.  But now I am feeling more like an eagle, spreading my wings and soaring to new heights to find a better life." -Jordan, age 17.

"This photo really gets to me because of my struggles with addiction.  The only way to explain it is that it shows me a different kind of life--a life where creatures live free and how happy life can really be if you want it to be.  This eagle and other creatures out there have to survive death and life, and they have to protect themselves and who they love,  just like us people of the world have to do." Photo called "Lifting Off" by Cody, age 16

"Underwater Mystery" by Logan, age 12.  The photo was taken with a half-submerged underwater camera.

"River over Rocks" by Kayden, age 14.  Kayden is starting to master artistic blur effects using slow shutter speeds.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Expedition Success

One week.  Torrential rain.  Miles of bushwacking.  Early mornings.  2400 photos.  One amazing experience.  That sums up last week's photography expedition of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.   Exploring was the name of the game. We hiked and paddled the stretch from Gordon Dam to CCC Landing, then drove south and explored the backwaters and dalles between St. Croix Falls and Somerset, and finally we ended the trip by exploring the Upper Namekagon between Namekagon Dam and Pacwawong Dam. 

What made this trip truly unique was the manner in which the boys got to experience the river.  Most people experience the Riverway from the seat of a canoe.  However, we have discovered over the last few months that photos area easiest to create from the river banks.  When you slow down, photos begin to emerge that you would otherwise miss: a bee on a flower, the playful way water trickles over some rocks, a songbird resting in the shadows.  It is from this place of stillness and patience that the deeper spirit of the river begins to reveal itself, and we tried to maximize such opportunities for ourselves on this expedition.    The experience was more than can be described in words, so I'm thankful this a photo blog.  Below is but a small sample of the amazing photos the boys created last week.

I want to extend a special thanks to NWP staff members Tim Eckert and Jason Greatsinger for making this venture a success.  Jason was able to capture some amazing video, Tim proved to be the most talented fish filleter I have ever met, and both were passionately dedicated to the cause. 

-Ben Thwaits, project leader.

"I love this picture because when I took it, the ducks got so comfortable with me.  I was able to get really close, and it almost seems like you can reach through the photo and pet them."  -Devante, age 16.

Devante revels in the feeling of a good shot near Namekagon Dam at sunset. 

Life is like a sunset
Beautiful and quick
Never knowing when it will be laid to rest
So I take this life and try my best
But always seem to do the worst.
To get through this there needs to be more
Of the things that make me feel whole
-Photo and poem by Lee, age 16.
  Lee gets acquainted with a new friend near Buckley Creek Camp on the Upper St. Croix. 

"I took this picture as the sun was setting.  I snapped the picture knowing that the sun would reflect off the water.  This picture means a lot to me because it shows that if something shines on you, you can shine it right back and make it more brilliant and peaceful."  -Matt, age 15. 

Matt settles in for some low-light photos at Pacwawong Dam. 

"This picture was taken at Interstate Park, near St. Croix Falls, which is my hometown.  For me, the river is a place I go to fish and relax and get away from it all.  I just loved being on top of this cliff looking down on the river with the beautful trees and sky.  It makes me feel at one with all the beauty of nature."  -Mike, age 17. 
Mike get up close and personal with a turks-cap lily on the Upper St. Croix. 

"I was taking a picture of a lily pad as we were floating in a canoe a couple miles below Namekagon Dam.  I looked up and saw the the deer walking real slow.  I was so excited, and I was able to get a picture!  She probably was wondering "What on earth are these people doing?" but she didn't seem scared.  When she got to the other side of the river, she just layed down in the grass and looked like she was napping.  It was an amazing experience to see."  -Travis, age 13. 

"I call this picture "Streaming Life."  I was laying in the water at Pacwawong Dam to get the shot, and I was worried I wouldn't get it to work before it got dark.  But I knew I had to keep trying.  I was using a 15 second shutter speed and tripod to get that blurred look of the water I was going for.  I finally got just the right shot.  To me, this picture shows that the river is full of energy, full of life in a constant flow.  And I feel like my life is just like the river--I have all this energy, and my life is now just beginning for the first time." -Derek, age 17. 

Derek always did whatever it took to get the shot.  Here, he sits in the current as Jason looks on with the video camera.

Friday, July 9, 2010


Every plot needs a climax. Monday, July, 12 will represent the climax of “In a New Light” to date. Accompanied by three staff, six of the boys (DeVante, Matt, Mike, Travis, Derek, and Lee) will embark on a one-week photographic expedition of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway with the mission of capturing its hidden secrets on film. We will seek out the most beautiful, sublime, and mysterious areas of the Riverway, immerse ourselves in the spirit of these places, and emerge with photos to share with the world. We will crawl through swamps, bushwack through dense forests, and paddle many miles to reach our destinations. Staff member Jason Greatsinger, also co-owner of Black Ice Outdoor Productions, will be videoing our expedition in its entirety.  This is the stuff that life-changing experiences are made of. 

We would like to extend a heart-felt thanks to Interstate Batteries for donating batteries for this expedition, which will be invaluable in minimizing the time we must retreat to civilization to recharge our equipment.

-Ben Thwaits, Project Leader

Becoming Artists

The group of five young men who joined our program about 40 days ago (Jordan, Kayden, Dakota, Logan, and Cody) are quickly approaching the half-way point in their journeys as photographers.  By now, they have learned the fundamentals of operating the equipment, and are just beginning to to master the process of translating those technical skills into artistic expression.  If past groups are an accurate indicator, we will now begin to see stunning artistic growth as each learns to percieve his camera not just as a collection of buttons and lenses, but as a powerful emotional conduit.  Enjoy this group's selection of photos below.

     "Orange Bug" by Logan, age 12.

"Lonely Lily" by Kayden, age 13. 

"Painted Turtle" by Jordan, age 17

"Green Life" by Dakota, age 14

"Taking Flight" by Cody, age 15

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Power and Metaphor

Susan Sontag captured it best when she wrote in her essay, On Photography:  "To photograph is to appropriate the thing being photographed.  It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge--and, therefore, like power." 

Just as the boys put themselves in positions of power by deciding, among infinite possibilities, which sights are worthy of their lenses, they also establish control by deciding what those photos mean.  Nature provides the richest source of metaphors imaginable, and the boys have become fluent in interpreting these metaphors to better understand themselves, their struggles, and their successes.  Below are photos and interpretations from last week's excusion on the Upper St. Croix River.  

"When I first saw this scene, I only saw one bird.  I went to grab my camera, and when I came back there were two.  The mother had come in to give some insects to the father to feed their babies in a nest close by.  They just sat there for a while and let me get pictures.  For me, this picture makes me think that I just want to be a good father some day, and change my life so I can take good care of my kids."  -Photo called "Yellow Bellied Sapsucker Parents" by Mike, age 17 

 "To me, this dragonfly symbolizes hope, and also brings a smile to my face. It is so fragile and delicate, but so beautiful at the same time, and when it flies it is so fast and powerful.  We all have many sides."  -Photo called "Green Dragonfly" by DeVante, age 16 

"I was fishing when I spotted this spider.  It was the size of a tennis ball!  Most people would be scared, but I was just amazed, and knew it would make an awesome picture so I grabbed my camera.  I felt amazed to watch a spider walking on water." -Photo called "Spider on Water" by Travis, age 13.   

"In this photo I see a calm, settled rock sitting in the middle of chaos as the river smashes against it. It's just like my life.  I used to feel like the river smashing against the rock, but now I'm the rock sitting calmly as the river flows around it." -Photo called "Rock in the River" by Derek, age 17.

The artist intends these two pictures to be presented as a pair.  "The fish remids me of my life - hazy and unclear.  Sometimes I think that's just the way life is, but other times I just want things to be clear like the flower.  But I don't always know how to do it."  -Lee, age 15 

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Last week, we explored some of the smaller, more intimate waters of the upper Namekagon River. The moment we stepped out of the van, I was struck by how particularly focused and silent the boys were. There was a hushed, almost heavy mood within the group as they each stalked their own masterpieces. It was that same sense one feels in art galleries or cathedrals or museums: that there is something special about the place, and it just wouldn’t feel right to talk loudly or move quickly. I think the word for it is reverence. The Namekagon’s galleries of current and cathedrals of pine elicited the strongest sense of reverence among the boys that I have witnessed yet in the project. Here is a sample of last week’s photos.
-Ben Thwaits, Project Leader.

At many points in my life
I’ve struggled to stand against the wave.
When the wave comes
I stand waiting.
It’s building up taller than life.
When the wave gets close to me
I stand my ground
And wait to fall and tip over.
But now I stand
and face the struggles of life.
And after the wave flows by me
I look back
and see the mistakes I have made.

Photo and poem called "Facing the Wave" by Mike, age 17.

"We were driving back from our day on the river, and Chris spotted the bear cub. We started taking pictures from the van, and the bear seemed calm, so we got out to get better shots. I was pretty scared because I thought mama may be close. When I got out of the van, I made the grunting noise that a mama bear would use to comfort it's cub, and when I did that, the bear turned and looked at me and I got the shot. I was shaking the whole time!!" -Derek, age 17. Photo titled "The Bear."

Photo called "Rapids" by Matt, age 15. Taken in the rapids below Pacwawong Dam.

"I was walking along the river and I saw this butterfly, and I thought it would be a good shot. It felt really good to take this photo, but I can't explain why. I just feel amazed that I was able to get this shot." -Travis, age 13. Photo called "Resting butterfly."

Photo titled "The Iris" by DeVante, age 16.

I’m your reflection, can't you see
Though I'm only there in the brightness
Going through life with distortion and ease
Now I can see that the mirror’s a blur
And you never were who I hope to be
Never now, never then, will I want to be
Your reflection once again
Now I see what I'm meant to be
Nothing like you and more like me.

Photo and poem called "Reflection" by Lee, age 15.