Nature Photos in NO LAWS

I shot a lot of “in the woods” nature shots in NO LAWS. The project consists of three moments and two long essays. The moments were all about 10+ photos, exclusively nature, shot on one or two rolls taken over a short time in the woods. These moments took place in Penn’s Creek, Pennsylvania: THE CREEK, Harriman State Park: THE VALLEY, and the third moment in Queens’ Forest Park, aptly: THE FOREST.

NO LAWS, is a reflection on the political horror of 2016. It lives in it without ever referencing 2016 directly. It is my first long form piece shot over an extended period of time, rather than a typical two-week stretch. The moments were shot at somewhat important times in the year. THE CREEK in March, THE VALLEY right before election day, THE FOREST on New Year’s Eve.

There are also woods sections, which reference the moments within the longer essays, PRAY CHICO and WAMBY, taken in Montana and Costa Rica.

I like to say that I shoot not how places look, but how they feel. And for this year-long project, these nature sequences work as a motif that show, in different times, the way the year feels, as we move through a more formal essays.

THE CREEK, in Pennsylvania, was the incipient work for this longer project. It was shot without concept of what NO LAWS would become. I presented as a stand-alone short series for some time before realizing that it was going to be an element of a longer story.

I shot this moment on a single roll near Penn’s Creek on a hike with my friends. It was day after a long campfire night in which we argued a lot of politics during primary season, before the votes had swept our respective states.

The initial name of this series was then “Late Season Palette”. At the end of the winter, in the way spring now arrives sooner, I found the colors beautiful. As I looked across the creek, I saw these tricolor bands form from the tree canopy, the river bank, and the water. Foreground branches and leaves glanced across the frame, like stars or ornament. It felt as though nature was building these flags, every step shifting and different, but still a flag in perfect representation of some place, wherever we were in those woods. No matter how the colors change, they still interact with each other in a complimentary way.

This moment ends, and the long essay PRAY CHICO segues with images of Yellowstone lodgepole pines in color and black and white, a theme of blinking back and forth, dalliance between coherence and incoherence of understanding America, that I carried out vast Montana landscapes as well (those landscapes are beyond the theme of this essay but are prevalent throughout it).

At the end of October, a week and a half before election day, I went hiking in the near-upstate with my brother and his wife. In PRAY CHICO, I had experimented the first time with a zoom lens that allowed me access to distant and interpret landscapes in a way I hadn’t before. In THE VALLEY, I then brought that zoom lens into the close quarters of the natural environment. A deep zoom flattens out the elements it finds, putting things that are far away from each other close together, turning round trees paper-thin.

I didn’t share any photos from this moment until I completed the larger project. This moment took the name “Early Season Palette”, of course looking back at the previous yet-renamed set. I thought it was funny to go from “Late Season” to “Early Season”, and for something “late” to be new growth, and “early” to be autumnal.

Walking in the woods was a release from Comey Day, which had occurred just a day before. I think these photos show a sense of hope that is still suspended, still uncertain on the repercussion of unknowable tidal shifts of public opinion.

Something about it feels frozen. Faeric, slightly enchanted, with a carried hope. One of the last times I felt that American hope before the final battle which fucked us.

My parents now live in Costa Rica. After years of back and forth, they are permanent residents. I visited them there at home for the first time. This essay experiments with the idea of the adaptation of familiar elements in an unfamiliar place. This is the rain forest. This is a place very unlike where I grew up. Yet, in my parents’ company, their sense of style has merged with their new environment, syncretic.

After the election, when America began to reject the things that were most integral to why it has always felt like home, I felt this sense of eureka evidence that home can exist and thrive if it is welcomed into a new world, and yet still be that same home.

So these photos are shot with the lessons absorbed from the earlier year, in a different biome, so that that the same voice may sing a different kind of song.

For THE FOREST, in Queens, I shot the series in an area that was ecologically the same as where I grew up on Long Island. I spent years wandering in woods that looked like this.

All the nature segments have a color theme that ties them together, of course based on the color relationship that is naturally present. Being that this nature was familiar to me, THE FOREST is color themed to the palette of the environments of my childhood. I shot two rolls for this series, a roll in color and a roll in black and white. As I edited them and sequenced them, they flowed in this way where, as the light was fading, the palette became progressively muted. I switched to sensitive black and white film to close the hours I had left and sequenced that last, as we “watch the silver light die”.

I think when we feel threatened, we return to something comfortable, to connect with and shelter under something that makes us feel safe. So, in a narrative that takes me through a part of America unfamiliar to me, and later to outside America but somehow familiar, this last moment series goes “home” and rediscovers the color palette of my youth, and in the dying light, the final day of the year, it discovers it is a palette of decay. It is passing from the present, hard to grasp like a memory we can’t quite access. And in it, there is a melancholy that no matter how bad 2016 was, we want to hang on to it with awareness of the fear and urgency of what comes next.

The final frame of the series abruptly closing the story, light through young evergreens, maybe like a druidic slashing out of the year.

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