The Edge of the World – Human/Nature

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

As soon as we could drive, my friends and I would pile in my ’78 two-tone brown VW Bus and head out to the edge of the world. It was so wet and so cold, I’d have to run the defroster on high the whole drive and have the windows cracked. With surfboards stacked inside, along the way we’d make the ritualized surf checks, turning our 3.5hr expedition into a full day. It’s was the journey and we always made the most of it, finding some wave, some beachbreak or rivermouth to get wet and catch a few waves.

Before the hype, we were often the only ones in the lineup. Maybe a sprinkling of locals or travelers, but otherwise, just us and the rolling fog beneath perched eagles staring off into the distance. Finally, after a long winding route, we’d make camp at the end where evergreen mountains and their scarred clearcuts dropped straight into the Pacific. It was where sea stacks stood the ultimate test of time, wavering to none but the water and wind. It was where gulls battled the chop and the bull-headed seals crested just beyond the break. They would come so close, emerging out of the murky grey waters, we’d often jumpstart with fear and begin paddling to shore until our hearts stopped thumping and we could laugh at each other. This was wild land; empty bone-chilling drip of strong tree stands whispering of a moss-strewn giant living among the hollows. Our edge of the world was Neah Bay and the Makah Reservation. Those were the memories.

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

I return as often as possible, to relive and resume the wildness at the edge of the world. With surfboard or camera, life is different at Neah. Society at large has discovered its open beauty, and the thrill called surfing has become mainstream even along the frigid fickle northwest shoreline. We’re never alone now.

Recently, I returned on assignment for The Nature Conservancy during a 14-month long book project titled Human/Nature photographing the beauty, the bounty – the legacy – and the joys of Washington culture. I drove Deborah Kidd, the TNC project manager, out along the route of my windswept memories where we met TJ Greene. TJ is a Councilman on the Makah Tribal Council, who escorted Deb and I to the northern plateau jutting into the Pacific just beyond town. It was ancestral land, an outcropping I watched for years as I lulled over the swells and scanned the horizon. He pointed out midden, un-excavated artifacts left over from centuries past, as well as various plants and bark species his ancestors used for medicine. And in a clearing at the absolute edge of the world, he pointed to where one of the Makah people’s original longhouses once stood. It was a moment, a whole experience, that put perspectives into perspective, my memories cemented into a new appreciation for where I have been and who I’ve become. All those laughs with friends. All those frightening drops on monster storm-brewed waves pumped straight from the cold waters of the northern Pacific, dropped directly onto my head. The wildlife. The soaking woods. The storms, foggy windows, wipers screeching frantically. Holes in tents, sand between our toes, books on a beach log at sunset. They formed a part of me, made me me. This place gave so much and I knew so little of it.

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

TJ brought me and Deb back into town and showed us around during the annual Makah Days celebration, where we ate cedar smoked salmon with potatoes and watermelon while watching canoe races in the bay. We slowed down to take in the moment; the sounds of laughter and shouts of encouragement, the millennia this land at the edge of the world has heard these sounds pass by.

For more information regarding Human/Nature visit The Nature Conservancy.

www.CameronKarsten.com

The Reefnetters of Lummi Island – Human/Nature

© Cameron Karsten Photography for The Nature Conservancy’s photographing reef netting with Riley Starks of Lummi Island Wild on Lummi Island, WA

To get to the island you take a tiny ferry. Max vehicle load around 15, maybe less. If I lived on the island, I’d have a canoe and do the short crossing for free. Once you’re on the island there is one main road that circumnavigates the land. Homes are rustic, beautiful. Driveways are quaint, simple, forested with evergreens. Everything is shrunken to the simplicity of truly small island living.

I was there to photograph the Lummi Island Reefnetters, a community of commercial fisherman/women taking part in an historical practice of harvesting wild salmon runs. Known as the oldest salmon net fishery in the world, it was begun by the First Peoples of the Pacific Northwest, where the angler watched the ebb and flow of the tides as the salmon came and went on their route to spawn, and used a net or trap once the fish were lured onto a “reef”. I honestly had never heard of it, albeit being a salmon-obsessed angler since I was 10 years old, I was immediately intrigued. I think of salmon and I think of a beautifully sculpted fish, muscular and angular for the perfect oceanic journey. From the rivers at birth to an epic multiyear voyage through ocean currents, and then back once and forever to the very freshwaters they were birthed in to create life again.

© Cameron Karsten Photography for The Nature Conservancy’s photographing reef netting with Riley Starks of Lummi Island Wild on Lummi Island, WA

I was told to ask for Riley Starks, a partner of Lummi Island Wild which sells reefnet-caught salmon and other seafood from the Salish Sea. He also owns and operates Nettle Farms, a small B&B established in 1992. The land was rugged as I pulled up, green and wild, but suitable to raise 50 different birds from chickens to turkeys. There were knotted fruit trees strewn about the earth and a solitude of a farm tucked into the forest. Riley himself cleared the land, and as we shook hands I could feel his calloused hands, thick with years of work on land and water. His beard was grayish-black and his stature short, he quickly threw a pair of rubber boots in his truck and told be to follow him down to the reefnets.

In about 5 minutes we were at his office, a beautiful bay facing south towards the San Juan Islands of Orcas and Cypress. We loaded up into a skiff and shot out to one of the anchored barges. It was a flood tide in a couple hours, simply meaning an incoming tide that brings in schools of salmon to the tidal bay. From there, they swim over an artificial reef suspended between two platforms. A spotter is stationed above the gear, watching and waiting until the school enters the reef, and then instructs to crew to draw up the nets. The salmon are enclosed, quickly hauled into small holding tanks, wherein the their gills are ripped out for a quick death. Any bycatch is released back into the water.

© Cameron Karsten Photography for The Nature Conservancy’s photographing reef netting with Riley Starks of Lummi Island Wild on Lummi Island, WA

I watched in amazement at the efficiency of the operation, as schools of salmon followed the tides and entered the reefnets, drawn in by glittering strands of line that gave an appearance of a reef emerging from the depths. All net gear was battery powered, charged via solar panels, making the whole operation completely sustainable. The skiff was the only gas-powered engine, which ferried the crew back to shore and the afternoon’s catch to an awaiting tender.

Within a few hours, the tides shifted and the crew cleaned the operations gear. We rode back to shore. I was fortunate enough to have brought my cooler wherein Riley placed two 8lb pink salmon on ice.

Shot on assignment for The Nature Conservancy for the book Human/Nature.

Grundens 2020

Pre-COVID photoshoots seem… like they never happened. Looking back on the projects and campaigns of early 2020 and beyond are an enigma. We shook hands? We laughed next to someone, brushed shoulders, spoke to them while visually observing the movements of their mouth and their complete facial expressions?

A smile is something to share. A smirk is something to behold, especially on a fishing vessel. This guy for Grundens on the Silverwave at Fisherman’s Terminal, Seattle, WA. May COVID-19 disappear from the human race as soon as possible.

For more work visit www.cameronkarsten.com

Cosa Buena in VOGUE Mexico

It brings great excitement and joy reflecting on projects that are not only culturally enriching, but visually stunning and successful. Our friend Vera Claire, founder of Cosa Buena, reached new heights networking and promoting their community-based work after getting published in VOGUE Mexico (as well as Architecture Digest and MEDIUM, among others). Below is a link to the article published in print and online, as well as a selection of other images from our time exploring the artisan-cooperatives of Oaxaca, Mexico. Someday, we’ll return.

PERFIL COSA BUENA-VOGUE MEXICO

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

© Cameron Karsten Photography in Oaxaca, Mexico

Book published! “Human/Nature” by The Nature Conservancy

Thrilled to announce the publication of a recent book project with The Nature Conservancy! Over a course of 12 months, I traveled around Washington State to showcase how humans interact with nature in relationships both recreational and commercial. Here are a few selects, as well as a link to purchase. All proceeds support The Nature Conservancy in Washington State: Human/Nature

Belize Pt 2 – YETI

On water or land, there’s always a place to be thirsty and carry the right vessel.

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Wind + Energy

Wind is a powerful thing. Why not harness it? With luck and great joy I had the chance to visit the Kittitas Wind Farm in Eastern Washington.

Seattle Times Op-Ed: Indigenous knowledge is critical to understanding climate change

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

As we prepare to join Saturday’s March for Science, please understand that by integrating traditional knowledge with Western science, we can solve some of our biggest challenges, including those brought by our changing climate.

Good science is critical to our health, ability to live full lives and community well-being. We use science to advance medicine, enhance our use of natural resources, ensure our food supply and much more. That’s why more than a million people around the world joined the March for Science in 2017 and why we are gearing up again to march for science on April 14.

Western science is just one way of knowing. Indeed, traditional knowledge and wisdom of indigenous peoples is recognized by the United Nations for its potential to sustainably manage complex ecosystems. Yet all too often, Western science has disregarded centuries of science-based knowledge coming from Native Americans and other indigenous peoples.

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

Indigenous peoples have lived in our particular locations for many generations, and we define ourselves in relation to our home environment. Our deep and long-standing relationships with the environment are unique; our very existence depends on our ability to conserve and maintain our lands and waters for future generations.

Today, tribes, First Nations, indigenous peoples and Aboriginals are sounding a loud alarm about the impacts of climate change. Rising sea levels, broken natural systems, and increasing fire and flooding are apparent and documented.

For example, stocks of many fish species like Pacific hake are sensitive to ocean temperature along the California Current, and recent declines in their numbers have serious implications for the well-being of my own Makah Tribe.

While others debate the causes of climate change, we who live close to the land are experiencing major impacts from our changing climate and call for immediate and strong action to protect the resources on which we all rely. We can’t afford to disregard indigenous knowledge about climate change.

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

Growing up as a member of the Makah Tribe, I relied on the empirical knowledge of my ancestors to determine where to fish and how to locate other sources of food. My community relied on indigenous experiences to understand how to keep ourselves healthy.

When I was a child, my father taught me to navigate our ocean territory through currents, tides and landmarks. This knowledge, along with the life cycle of fish and time of year, allowed for the successful, sustainable harvest of species such as halibut, black cod and lingcod. In the years that followed, my peers and I transferred knowledge to other members of the family who integrated the information into current fishing and management practices.

As a youth, I’d get up in the mornings, often before sunrise, and leave the house overlooking a beach. There was no backpack, no lunch box. I was taught what our land would provide through all the seasons: roots, berries, sea urchins and mussels, to name a few. The knowledge of how, where and when to harvest is a way of life, always done in a manner that ensures the resources are sustained for the next person. These teachings and values laid the foundation for the work I completed in tribal leadership.

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

To our north, Tlingit and Haida elders observe young herring following older herring to spawning grounds. When industrial fishing removes the elder herring from spawning sites, the stock is destroyed, as the young fish can no longer find their way home. Failure to heed these traditional observations is leading to the demise of herring and threatening aspects of Tlingit and Haida culture that are closely tied to herring.

A recent news item featured the astonishing observation that birds in Australia intentionally spread fire by carrying burning sticks. While this is fascinating, it has long been known to the Aboriginals. Using fire as a management tool is widespread throughout indigenous cultures. Makah is no exception. For centuries our ancestors used fire to manage crops of cranberries and tea. These resources are currently threatened by our changing climate, as well as the laws and regulations that govern the use of fire.

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

Respecting and embracing indigenous knowledge as important science benefits all of us. In looking for solutions to the environmental dilemmas that confront us, it is critical to apply indigenous knowledge. All of us are looking for a better understanding of the Earth and her ecosystems. By integrating traditional knowledge with Western science, together we can solve some of our biggest challenges, including those brought by our changing climate.

As communities worldwide prepare to March for Science, this focus is appropriate and important. Threats to scientific knowledge must be rejected, and decision making based on fact must be embraced. Equally important, we should also embrace 10,000-plus years of field observation by indigenous peoples around the world.

This empirical knowledge has sustained people and cultures and has laid the groundwork for many modern “discoveries.” Indigenous peoples are truly the experts of their area and place, with a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of nature and our role in conserving resources for future generations.

Original Post (April 10, 2018)

Alaska by Air for RdM – Ketchikan Helicopters

Summer in Alaska is a beautiful thing, especially above the canopy. Shot for RdM – Ketchikan Helicopters out of Ketchikan, AK.

Newly redesigned website at www.CameronKarsten.com

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Alaska with GrundensUSA

In the summer of ’17, I finally got assigned my first voyage to Alaska. It has been a deep-seated desire to visit one of the states’ last frontiers, and do to it with GrundensUSA in collaboration with Dark Seas Division and Silver Wave Seafood Co. aboard the Seine fishing vessel Silver Wave was nothing short of epic.

Check out my fully redesigned website at http://www.CameronKarsten.com