CREAM OF THE CROP! CAMERON KARSTEN FOR CORNERSTONE RANCHES

BY ISAAC ROBLETT

Originally posted via Wonderful Machine

Located in the beautiful Yakima Valley, Washington, Cornerstone Ranches is a fifth-generation (since 1897) family farm that grows a variety of hops, apples, and grapes on over 1,000 acres of land. 

In anticipation of autumn’s weather changes, the Valley is abuzz with activity as the harvest season approaches. In October, Cornerstone Ranches owner Graham Gamache hired Seattle-based agriculture photographer/director Cameron Karsten to document this year’s harvest. 

I’ve been out to the ranch on four different harvests, as well as during other seasons of the year. Graham and I have become friends, and we’re constantly discussing other projects that we both want to do to benefit each other’s businesses and relationship.

Cameron was a perfect partner for the project due to his extensive experience photographing people, whether environmental portraits or people in action within their spaces, doing what they do for hobby or profession.

Whether bringing in additional lighting or utilizing the play of light and dark in the late summer sun, it just adds to my ability to adapt to the situation and problem-solve to keep shooting and creating a cohesive library of imagery for the client.

Each time Cameron heads out to Cornerstone Ranches, which is about a five-hour drive from his home in Bainbridge Island, he speaks with Graham to see what is happening at the farm and discuss what he can do to bring his vision to life. The harvest is a particularly poignant time as it brings an array of seasonal workers. Some of whom have traveled far to support themselves and their families, an opportunity that only comes once a year.

I have such a keen ability to connect with the various people working at the farm. The majority speak Spanish as their primary language. Graham just asks me to do what I do and connect with them naturally.

The harvest is operational 24/7, with three eight-hour shifts for five to six weeks picking and processing the hops. The whole region is alive with action, and the earthy aroma of hops can be smelled throughout the Yakima Valley. The hard work and dedication that goes into the day-to-day process of the farm is felt in Cameron’s ability to find the subject’s ​​genuineness in his imagery. 

Authenticity is always the intent. There is little to no post-production in the imagery. It’s as it is. Real people working hard around the clock to accomplish the year’s beer-brewing hops harvest. And everyone that I know of on the farm loves working for Cornerstone. They treat their employees wonderfully, and all are grateful for this. So authenticity and hard work shine through within the images and throughout the company’s identity.

The Yakima Valley produces around 75% of the world’s beer-brewing hops, thanks to its fertile and productive agricultural lands, which are rich with volcanic soil and water from the Cascade Mountains. This, combined with the knowledge of generational family farms like the Gamache’s, makes for emphatic results.  

The nights are always cold. Yet throughout the years, I’ve never seen any rain. Dry and hot. Or dry and cold.

It’s a fast-paced, around-the-clock environment within the hop fields or the apple orchards. There is a race to pick the fruits before the weather turns cold and disturbs the quality of the crops. Cameron used his discretion to not intrude on the workers’ busy schedules. Instead, he was attentive without interfering to allow the most authentic moments to transpire while he captured the spirit of the work and the aura that comes with harvest season.

Working in a wide-open landscape allowed Cameron to let his creative juices flow to examine the composition possibilities and find the soul of the assignment.

I love showing the energy and efforts behind the scenes of such commodities. I love walking the landscapes and the machinery, capturing the moments’ humanity interacts with nature and harvests her fruits. And capturing the honest emotions of people through portraiture and all the nitty-gritty of agriculture/industrial details. It makes me happy and ignites that creativity within.

The fatigue of cold early mornings pre-dawn or late nights after a long day is a big challenge when all I want is a beer!

Cameron utilized his innate people skills to engage with the employees, allowing for an open and comfortable shooting environment. Despite the language barrier with some workers, he still managed to form a connection.

Through body language and understanding, I can step in without disrupting the flow of the harvest’s operations. It’s all like a fluid river, and I don’t want to dam it up. Rather, I can jump within it at certain times and then jump back out.

Like any other industry, people within the agriculture sector work as hard as any human being to bring the world its most basic and fundamental commodities. To view the imagery, I want to come away with an appreciation of these efforts and realize something doesn’t come from nothing.

See more of Cameron’s work on his website.

Credits

Cornerstone Ranches Owner: Graham Gamache
Video Editor: Sam McJunkin
Video Editor: Luke McJunkin 

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