Saturday, February 20, 2010


The high school program follows a different schedule than the rest of the conference. For the first three days various professionals in the field accompany the ten students. Sponsored by Winberley, Gitzo, Delkin, Canon, and Apple, the kids have access to an ungodly amount of equipment and computers. Following tradition, I arrived at the conference three days late due to snow in Dallas so I missed the first day of shooting.

On Monday, we met our bus driver at 4:45 AM and headed out to Pyramid Lake located on the Piaute tribe’s reservation. The rock formations, called tufa, are remnants of underwater geothermal vents, which deposited calcium carbonate over a long period of time.

We hiked all around the lake working details and landscapes.

After lunch, we made our way to the Black Rock Desert, which you might recognize as the hosting site of Burning Man. Through some great contacts, we managed to get access to Fly Geyser. Privately owned, this little gem evades any public access. We, however, were given four hours to walk around, climb on top (responsibly of course), and photograph the alien structure.

Sixty years ago wells were drilled around the property to test for geothermal activity. As 210-degree water spouted from the pipes, small amounts of calcium carbonate followed, forming around the vents. The otherworldly colors are a result of microorganisms, algae, which change color throughout the year.

I’ve never seen anything like this before. Even being there, it didn’t look real.

Privately owned means privately cared for. Unfortunately, Burning Man, which has now become an organization, is slated to buy the property. This would bring about 30,000 people to the area per year. I can almost picture it now. Thousands of crazed hippies dancing around the flumes licking the columns with dilated pupils saying “the snozberries taste like snozberries!” If it does, I’ll be able to step back and say I knew Fly Geyser when it looked like this:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

NANPA 2010

A fresh cigarette cherries at pursed lips. Smoke fills in the valleys of an eroded face - her tired eyes glazed over, hypnotized by the spinning numbers and symbols. One hand cocked upward rests attentively on the machine’s cold metal knob. Without looking away, she reaches down inside a neoprene tote bag to adjust her oxygen tank, the other cold knob of destiny. A credit card stays plugged in, attached to a coiled bungee, which stretches to her waist like an umbilical cord. The rig resembles that of a safety switch on a jet-ski or treadmill though I highly doubt she got the idea from such physically demanding machines. I do applaud, however, the innovation of applying a lifeline-inspired mechanism to gambling. If she should collapse, the cord tugs at the credit card and the machine will have no way of taking any more of her money. Or perhaps it’s a safety system designed for and by the casino. Should she keel over from elation or despair, the transaction will have already been finalized. No chips to count, no debts left unpaid, no disputes.

Welcome to Reno, Nevada, a very confused place. Somehow five hundred nature and conservation photographers from around the country ended up here in John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino for an annual conference. If this seems a bit ironic, inappropriate, or contradictory to you then you’re pickin up what I’m throwin down.

Despite the Nugget’s best efforts, powerful keynote speakers like Phil Borges, Staffan Widstrand, and Joel Sartore kept the photographers off the slot machines and locked in to compelling imagery of various conservation efforts.

Seven years ago I, along with nine other teenagers, was selected as a scholarship student to attend the annual North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) summit in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At the time, I had no foresight as to how the conference might shape my life or of its role throughout my photographic career. For the following two years I traveled to the conference on behalf of The Cozad Ranch in McAllen, Texas – first to Portland, Oregon and then to Charlotte, North Carolina. Two years ago, one of my students from the rural village of Las Mangas, Honduras was awarded the same scholarship and I accompanied him overseas to Destin, Florida for a week of workshops and a glimpse into the nature photography community. This year I joined up with the high school program as an official instructor in Reno. It’s strange, really. No matter where I went or how far away from the organization I might have traveled, it always seemed to find a way to pull me back.

These are the 2010 high school scholarship students. from top left to right: Jessica Christina, Aidan Briggs, Andy Locascio, Graham Nelson, Stephanie Wollman, Adam Brobjorg, Colton Fischer. Bottom left to right: Kento Mizuno, Tomi Weissenberger, Sy Bean.