One of the larger stories coming out of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula over the last year is the restoration of the Elwha River. By removing the Elwha and Glines canyon dams, the National Park Service hopes to restore a legendary salmon run and bolster the shoreline with the sediment that was a victim of hydropower for the last 100 years or so. Due to the scope of the project, there has been a plethora of coverage both locally and nationally. As we have followed the coverage, we saw an overlap with the work of Port Angeles based photographer Nick Stevens, a member of the Washington Conservation Corp (WCC), as he provides an intimate look into daily restoration work. Earning his degree in photography at Seattle University, Nick cut his chops shooting adventure sports around the Pacific Northwest – downhill longboarding, surfing, and snowboarding to name a few. We caught up with him as he was transitioning to full time work on the Peninsula.
Multimedia Beast : Which came first – shooting on the peninsula or working for the WCC?
Nick Stevens : Before working for the WCC I made a few trips to the peninsula for hiking and surfing, I always took photos. Sometime in the middle of those trips the area around Port Angeles and the coastal peninsula struck me as a place I really wanted to photograph more. I ended up wanting to work for the WCC around the same time and with a little luck I landed a spot on the Olympic National Park (ONP) crew based in Port Angeles.
MMB : In my mind you’re living some sort of hard work / cabin story vacation daily. How far off is my perception? Please give me a better idea of your work responsibilities
NS : Your perception isn’t too far off, but it is a little romanticized. I was living in this sweet cabin just outside of Port Angeles until a couple months ago. It was an interesting place to live for the winter. Very quiet, lots of space, a huge basement where I could do ding repair and shape my first surfboard. Found some chanterelles right outside my door after moving in! I recently moved into town so I could walk places. The whole time I’ve been very close to the surf and the nature in which I want to spend time. As far as work, we do four tens, four ten-hour work days a week. The work varies. It can be a physically demanding day of hauling plants on our backs or building a trail, or it can be a mentally demanding day of tedious tree planting. Either way the whole crew tends to stay pretty positive and we keep the jokes and laughs rolling all day – gotta keep morale high or the work suffers.
MMB : Describe your approach to making images. Has your location / experiences given rise to any personal projects?
NS : I would describe my approach to image making as shooting from the hip and trying not to miss any part of the experience. I don’t shoot every day because some weeks we do the same thing. Often times I can capture that work activity in one or two days. I have to remember the WCC is my work, I have to hustle when there is a spare moment to make the images I want. I don’t want the crew to feel like they do all the work while I take photos. Shooting film helps with that, only a certain number of frames. Another corps member and I are putting together an art book with content created by corps members, there are 300 of us so we should get some interesting submissions. I’m also putting together a portfolio of my own images from the year, right now I’m mostly just shooting.
MMB : Any stories about the dam removal from your perspective? Is your work already yielding results?
NS : I think the most interesting thing we see in the old reservoirs is how quickly the river changes. We sprayed herbicide on a 200 foot swath of land in Lake Aldwell last October that is completely gone now. I think it’s too early to definitively say our work is yielding results, our crew hasn’t worked a full year yet and the first dam has hardly been down a year. Now that spring is here it is cool to see some of our plants putting out new growth.
MMB : Film? What is in your kit these days?
NS : I was using my Yashica Electro 35 aperture priority rangefinder for about a year until a rubber insulator that makes the light meter function disintegrated. It has the most beautiful 49mm 1.7 piece of glass! Now I shoot with a Canon Elan7E and 35mm 2.0 and 70-200mm 2.8 lenses. Occasionally I use my DSLR, but it’s tough to look through that tiny viewfinder after enjoying full frame goodness. I shoot the Fuji 200 film that Safeway sells and have it processed and scanned at Walgreens… small town reality
MMB : You are in a unique position, being in that environment all day / night. How has the experience helped your eye?
NS : It’s hard to say exactly. Having grown up in the city my mind naturally translates urban features into the graphic elements that compose a photo. Spending more uninterrupted time in the woods has generated a similar affect with natural features.
MMB : Any surprises in the lifestyle / culture that you have noticed since leaving the city?
NS : I wouldn’t say I’ve been surprised by the lifestyle in PA versus Seattle. I more or less knew what I was getting into out here, slower pace of life, small town, fewer young people, etc. The people on the peninsula seem a little more genuine than the average Seattleite. It’s an interesting mix of old hippies and old loggers.
MMB : Any great wildlife encounters?
NS : About a month after moving to PA a buddy of mine in town gave me a call asking if I was hungry, I said, “I could eat.” Long story short he hit a deer on the way home and we ended up dressing and butchering it in my basement. Not the most legal thing but either we eat it or the coyotes do. There are so many deer out here!
MMB : You mention staying on another year. What else do you see in your future
NS : Scuba diving for sure. I want to put my Americorps education award towards that. I’m writing an art grant for a photo project, it’s pretty vague at this point but the project is going to center around people and the stuff we collect. That one is going to take some time. Fishing trout in the high lakes and maybe spear fishing for lingcod. Definitely as much surfing as I can manage!
Nick’s portfolio – www.nickflows.com
Follow Nick’s photography blog at www.nickflows.blogspot.com