Caleb's Story

“My relationship with the environment is what drives my photography”

At first glance, I knew the FUJIFILM Students of Storytelling project would provide a perfect platform to showcase Mount St Helens, an endangered place I was passionate about. Recent threats from proposed mining and road development could permanently alter this gem. Known pre-blast as the Mount Fuji of America, this mountain is a historical and ecological icon, and I was disheartened that not many people were aware it was in danger.

In 1980, Mount St Helens erupted, causing a catastrophic event, obliterating the surrounding landscape and leaving a wasteland of volcanic rubble and skeletal trees. Since the eruption, the area known as the blast zone has made a remarkable recovery, giving scientists an unparalleled research opportunity.

Like many other wild and scenic places, Mount St Helens has new problems threatening to permanently alter its diverse and fragile landscape. The Pumice Plain, located in the blast zone, is one of the most important areas for research and recreation on the mountain. Plans from the US Forest Service to construct a road in this area would have a massive impact on the ecosystem, research studies, and wild nature of the landscape.

Furthermore, a proposed copper and gold mine near the mountain would have devastating effects on the surrounding Green River watershed. Toxic chemicals necessary for this type of mining have a high risk of entering the river system, harming not only plants and animals, but contaminating the drinking water that thousands depend on downstream.

Miles of pumice, reaching a depth of 120 ft engulfs the Pumice Plain. Its unstable nature means the terrain is always changing | Image © Caleb Jacobson

A hidden cascade on the Green River rushes into a shadowy canyon, flanked by ferns and polished river rock | Image © Caleb Jacobson

Mount St Helens Volcanic Monument | Image © Caleb Jacobson

Fiery wildflowers overlook the expansive Spirit Lake below | Image © Caleb Jacobson

"We passed through meadows of vibrant wildflowers, foliage-dense streambeds and active research sites'"

The Plan in Action

My first step was reaching out to Cascade Forest Conservancy, an organization committed to protecting Mount St Helens from road development and mining. Cascade helped me understand the risks and impacts in the area and where I should focus. I used this knowledge, combined with my own research, to plan multiple trips to different parts of the mountain so I could explore all angles of what was at stake.

As we enter the Pumice Plain, Michal maps out the route for the proposed road that would harm the recovering ecosystem | Image © Caleb Jacobson

As we enter the Pumice Plain, Michal maps out the route for the proposed road that would harm the recovering ecosystem | Image © Caleb Jacobson

Walking through the Pumice Plain with Michal Orcyk, the development director for Cascade Forest Conservancy, we passed through meadows of vibrant wildflowers, foliage-dense streambeds and active research sites. Following the Truman Trail, the same path the proposed road would follow, we came to understand the true cost of a road here.

When selecting the images for this project, it was a constant balance of including photos that showcased the raw beauty of Mount St Helens with ones that provided important context on the conservation issues at hand. It was a challenge to communicate and document the proposed road and mine without a visual reference.

My favorite image from the project has to be of the sun rising over the blast zone, lakes, and Pumice Plain on the north side of the mountain. To me, this photo encapsulates it all: the destruction from the eruption, the regrowth of a new ecosystem, and the vulnerable area in which the proposed road would be bulldozed.

The Thoughts and Feelings

My relationship with the environment is what drives my photography. I respect its resilience, its ruggedness and its layers of beauty. When I am running up the trail at 5am to catch the sunrise or clutching my camera while rappelling on the side of a cliff, I am reminded of how fragile humans are and how dependent we are on our surroundings.

As a result, I have fallen in love with the lightweight and compact yet rugged nature of the FUJIFILM X Series. My style of photography requires me to venture miles into the backcountry, often spending nights at a time just to frame a single image, so weight and form factor are essential.

I chose to use FUJIFILM X-T4 paired primarily with XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR and XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 LM OIS lenses. This setup allowed me to create a wide variety of images, from sweeping landscapes to intimate wildlife, without worrying about missing anything.

With more than 200 miles of uninterrupted trails encompassing the Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument, the opportunities are endless | Image © Caleb Jacobson

“This project has been a formative experience for me. It has deepened my resolve to continue advocating for our environment through my images”

 

 

Coming into this project, I had no idea I would have access to such a high level of support, guidance, and expertise. I learned that telling a good story involves a lot of people. The Students of Storytelling program built a community between the storytellers, the professionals teaching us along the way, and the staff at Fujifilm. My best advice to other storytellers would be to not be afraid to ask for feedback; a good critique can go a long way.

Both as a photographer and an environmentalist, this project has been a formative experience for me. It has deepened my resolve to continue advocating for our environment through my images. The story of Mount St Helens is timeless and ever evolving. In the coming months and even years, I will update my story as it continues to unfold. Together, I’m hopeful we’ll contribute to a brighter future for this resilient mountain.

With more than 200 miles of uninterrupted trails encompassing the Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument, the opportunities are endless | Image © Caleb Jacobson

Explore more of Caleb’s work and discover many more stories in our Students of Storytelling gallery.

Caleb Jacobson

Caleb Jacobson is captivated by the beauty of the world around him and from the moment he first picked up a camera, the stunning Pacific Northwest landscape was one of his favorite subjects to photograph. Knowing how vital it is to help preserve our world and all that nature has to offer, Caleb is using his photography to show the importance of wild places, focusing his Students of Storytelling project on the endangered area of Mount St Helens. This project helped him earn a spot as one of our finalists.