Shaun Fenn likes to keep a running list of personal projects to work on when the chance arises. Inspired by the images one might have from childhood of the lumber industry, Shaun traveled to the dense forests of northern Maine and along the California-Oregon border for his latest project titled simply, Lumber.
“In my free time, I like to try and tackle subjects that I’m personally curious about. In this particular story, I loved the juxtaposition of the gritty, industrial subject approached with a refined aesthetic,” Shaun says.
Shaun began the project inspired by classic images of lumberjacks settling the West, clearing old growth redwoods with saws and axes, but when he got into the project he discovered that as technology has changed a lot of industries, the lumber industry is no exception.
“Instead of all those people going out and cutting these trees down, there’s a single person in a single operator that processes trees like a cook processes onions, just flies through these trees like you can’t believe. Picks them up like toothpicks and strips them in one stroke. One guy in a truck all night long, 24 hours per day,” says Shaun.
In addition, the vocation has run into the global effort to preserve some of the more valuable “old growth” trees. The mills are being retrofitted to process smaller lumber because the larger trees are rare and thus protected.
“Our incredible forests are a treasure, but also a necessary resource which is a foundation for economic growth. The new lumber industry has a very production-centric process confined by a great deal of government regulation.” Shaun says.
The images, in color and black and white, show the gritty side of the job—trucks slogging through the mud, machines processing wood, the breath of a single operator hanging in the night sky lit by a spotlight—as well as intimate portraits of the few men left who run the show and a close-up of a freshly cut tree stump, the rings telling the story of the tree’s brief life.
“Like an editorial approach, I shot what was there in front of me and enjoyed the process. The incredible smell of a freshly cut tree is timeless and enduring. And I found the amount of dedication and pride amongst the men and women who provide the lumber that we use throughout our daily lives, similarly inspirational.” reflects Shaun.
He says a secondary goal of the project was to show that you don’t need to go to some exotic place to make beautiful and interesting photographs. “This is right here in the U.S. It’s not in Ukraine or China. I set out to create inspiring images around vocations and emotions right here at home. The personal challenge of creating interesting imagery around the “everyday” is super healthy for me.”
The project was shot in 2015. Early in 2016 he sent out a large mailer with a couple dozen images that best showcase the beauty he found in the lumber project.
“Personal projects help me to grow. They allow me to get into a subject intimately and tell a story. A very good exercise for the soul.” says Shaun.