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.