For over a year I've been working on a side project that explores a region I hold very close to my heart. Ever since I was young my family vacationed to Conover, Wisconsin to spend a week in a cabin on Upper Buckatabon Lake. Canoeing across the crystal clear water, diving under in search of supper clams, swimming with the family dog, wandering through dense, quiet woods, climbing boulders, and visiting various waterfalls in the area were all parts of what became a home away from home. After a very long absence, I returned to this sacred place in the fall of 2012 in the company of friends. This was my first visit to this home without family, without a furry companion, and without the presence of summer. It was, at the time, everything I needed.
Upon arriving, I instantly felt at ease. Everything was so familiar. The sights, the sounds, the smell. It was like everything was exactly how it was the last time I had been there. Driving up the dirt road amidst the light fog whistling through the trees, we pulled up to our cabin and settled in. No one else had booked a cabin during the time we were there so we had the entire place to ourselves, making our time there even more special.
After reaching out to them in December of 2015, I learned they no longer allowed dogs on their resort. This was deeply saddening to find out as it ultimately meant the end of my time here, at least with any canine companions. If you've been following my stories you're likely familiar with Riley. I take her on any trips I can drive to. She has yet to join me on a journey up north, and now I fear she will not. At least not to this place, where I always imagined she, too, could call home. Out of the grief for a home I now feel is lost, I planned on creating a book that revisits this place, both from images I've already taken and ones from at least one last trip I hope to take here.
From the very birth date of this idea, I knew the title of this project would be "Hiraeth."
Near the end of 2014 I found myself neck deep in the daunting process of rebranding my business. Figuring out what I wanted to call this brand was at the top and the bottom of this list. When my desire to create a book on Hiraeth grew, I began to dig into the meaning of that word more and more, eventually realizing it applied to a majority of the work I've been doing over the last ten years. There are some that feel hiraeth has a dark and sad undertone to it, but I do not share this thought. To me, hiraeth is a sense of timelessness, an aspect ever strong in the art of storytelling, and more and more I see myself less of a photographer and more of a storyteller.
The past is what has made us who we are today. History is only something we can reflect on and learn from. There are moments in everyone's lives, people who have come and gone, places explored now changed, missed, or vanished. That is not necessarily something inherently sad. We often look back at times we cherish; Celebrations, vacations, accomplishments, reunions with family and friends, the list goes on. Photography is, after all, one of the most common forms of documenting our past.
Hiraeth Diaries follows the lives of other people, places I visit, projects I am passionate about, and the stories behind those adventures. The world is constantly changing through the impact we as a species leave behind. Hidden places lose their secrecy and youth. Ecosystems are being destroyed through climate change, deforestation, and natural and man-made catastrophes. Thousands of species lose their homes and their lives with each passing day. My goal in doing what I do has always held the hope of elevating the appreciation of our natural environments, to spread awareness, and create change for a better home. Earth is our home, and we share that home with billions and billions of other beings. It's up to all of us to make sure this home lasts for generations to come - to maintain its beauty, to make it better, to create a healthier future for all of us.
Looking back at this full collection, there are a lot of things I wish I photographed that I didn't, or ways I would have photographed some things differently than I had at the time. There is a great deal missing from this trip, a fact I find only strengthens the sense of the title. I've come a long way in how I approach a story since this adventure, so it pains me to some degree that I may never return to this specific place. Wandering through the early morning fog, breaking the mirrored waters by canoe and into hidden coves beyond the reeds, sharing stories around the fire, and laying down on the pier at night to watch shooting stars; these are all fleeting memories I am glad to have captured, even if the full story feels incomplete. Maybe I won't return to this specific place again, but the north woods in the great lakes have so much more to offer.
I might still create this book, or I may incorporate some of this collection into a larger book covering more of my work. For now I move forward, continuing to grow and learn and love, hoping somewhere along the line what I share helps at least one other do the same.