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.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Day with a Ranger

We recently had the privilege and honor of a spending a morning on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway with NPS Interpretive Ranger Joan Jacobowski. Ms. Jacobowski is an expert in, among many things, plants and wildflowers, and we were given a glimpse into her incredible depth of knowledge. She could tell us about the names, natural history, and traditional uses of virtually any plant or flower we saw. Her guidance complemented the boys' photography perfectly, and she greatly enriched their connections to the subjects they were photographing. Her enthusiasm was absolutely contagious! We had a blast, and can't wait for our next excursion with Ranger Jacobowski.
-Ben Thwaits, Project Leader

Ranger Jacobowski admires one of DeVante's photos.

Ranger Jacobowski tells Mike about irises along the riverbank as Derek and DeVante photograph them.

Lee gets down and dirty for some closeup shots.

The boys explore Olson Prairie for photos as In a New Light project assistant Chris Flottum looks on with the video camera. This prairie was part of a controlled burn about a month ago, and newly emerging plant life made for some stunning images.

Mike defies the notion that Hawkweed is "just a weed" by using it as the subject for some beautiful photos.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Call for Cameras

We are excited to announce that we have started a used camera donation program. "In a New Light" is having a profoundly positive impact on the lives of participants, and we want to give them the opportunity to pursue their new found passion when they leave our 90-day program. Your used cameras will make this happen. CLICK HERE to learn how to donate.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Coming Into Their Own

We had time for only one photography excursion last week, but it was one of the most productive days this project has seen yet. After spending the morning targeting eagle photos on land adjacent to Riverside Landing on the St. Croix River accompanied by NWPII staff member Ben Altrichter, we next explored the beautiful Schoen Park Landing. This group of young men (DeVante, Lee, Travis, Mike, Derek, and Matt), who are now half way though their 90 days in the program, are really beginning to come into their own as artists. Individual styles are beginning to emerge, and they are internalizing how to alter shutter speed, aperture, and use polarizing filters to achieve their visions. Exciting times lie ahead for this group! Below are a sample of photos, poems, and thoughts from last week's adventure.

-Ben Thwaits, Project Leader

This photo is called "A Fish's Perspective." We were exploring the river, and I saw a beautiful flower hang over the creek so I grabbed the underwater camera and tried something new. I put the camera underwater and aimed it up at the flowers. And shizam! A masterpiece! This picture reminds me of life blured and disoriented, but beautiful and amazing at the same time. -Lee, age 15.

This flower is like my life
It sprouted from a seed
Living to see day after day
Growing to see the beautiful trees
Feeling the breeze along the side of me
I stand alone
But I stand strong on my roots
Waiting for the sunlight to make me grow

Photo and Poem titled "Waiting to Grow" by Mike, age 16.

Look at the water
See how it flows,
It bends, it shallows, and holes.

Watch the trees,
Move and sway,
Just like your life,
As it goes your way.

The river is so dark,
But can never stop
The flow, the life
The way that it rocks.

Now think of your life,
The rhythm, the rhyme.
It belongs to you,
Till the end of time.

Photo and poem titled "The River Flows" by Matt, age 15.

Life is like a flower,
it blossoms so beautiful and bright.
But sometimes it’s hard to shine
without the sunlight.
This flower is so strong
it continues to grow and grow
but it goes nowhere, as it’s pinned to the floor.
As the years pass
no one hears it cry.
Alone the flower will live
And alone the flower will die.

Poem and Photo titled "The Flower" by DeVante, age 16.

Photo called "Master Peace" by DeVante, age 16.