Sap In Their Veins — Portraits and Oral Histories of Loggers / 1988-1989, 2004

Harry Brundage, Choker Setter, 1988

Harry Brundage, Choker Setter, 1988


In the fall of 1977 on a Friday evening, our logging crew was at the White Pines Lodge in Arnold, CA. Jack Hannah, our siderod, just bought a round of beer. He had the biggest handlebar mustache I had ever seen. It was lightly dusted with beer foam as he roasted me for way too long. He mercifully ended by saying, “In 44 years of logging, you’re the best damn choker setter I’ve seen. I wish you well with photo school and please, don’t forget us dirty old loggers”.

When I moved from the suburbs of Los Angeles to the Sierra Nevada mountains to work in the woods, it was a lark I thought would last one season. I fell in love with the work itself. It was physical and dangerous. We shared a certain camaraderie that comes from relying on one another to stay alive. We logged selectively so when we left a job seventy-five percent of the forest was still standing. One season turned into four. I set chokers, bumped knots and skinned cat.

In the next decade I lived in Santa Barbara, attended photo school and became aware of environmental issues. In the late eighties when reading in the L.A. Times about angry loggers facing off against angry environmentalists, I found myself empathetic to both sides. I wanted to stop the logging of all old growth forests. I also wanted loggers to be seen as the rough-around-the-edges, but good and kind husbands, fathers and sons I knew them to be.

Working with the Mendocino County Museum we created an exhibit of portraits and oral histories that toured three museums in 1989-90. Fifteen years later, Karen Sinsheimer, curator at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, suggested I revisit some of the same places and people I photographed before to discover how logging had changed. She arranged an exhibit at the California State History Museum of the old and new work combined.

In 2004 I re-traced my route through northern California making portraits and recording oral histories for the upcoming show. Due to unexpected leadership changes at the museum my exhibit was cancelled.

This work is now a traveling exhibition and in the process of becoming a book.


James Lee Wilson, Rubber Tired Skidder Operator, 2004

James Lee Wilson, Rubber Tired Skidder Operator, 2004

 
Larry F. Caswell, Timber Faller, 1987

Larry F. Caswell, Timber Faller, 1987

 
Raul Mora Avalos, Hook Tender, 2004

Raul Mora Avalos, Hook Tender, 2004

 
Dan Wizner, Catskinner, 1988

Dan Wizner, Catskinner, 1988

 
Jim Nelson, Timber Faller, 1988

Jim Nelson, Timber Faller, 1988

 
Jim Nelson Family, 1988

Jim Nelson Family, 1988

 
Robert Ambrosini, Loader Operator, 2004

Robert Ambrosini, Loader Operator, 2004