Category Archives: Canada

7 Grant Writing Tips for Photographers from Donald Weber

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Over the course of his career, Donald Weber has received more than $250 000 in funding for his personal projects. He knows what he is talking about.

As anyone who has tried to work in the contemporary media environment is well aware, it is getting increasingly difficult to fund long-term personal documentary projects. It’t not that people aren’t interested or that the issues aren’t worth exploring, but rather that the traditional distribution outlets (i.e. newspapers and magazines) simply don’t have the money to keep photographers and videographers in the field for long stretches of time. The industry has, at least for now, been forced to embrace a cycle of quick, cheap, and often disposable content to keep pace with the shortened attention spans of the modern reader.

Media is ultimately a business, and so complaining that these outlets don’t want to give photographers large sums of money to go and explore my personal interests gets us nowhere. Nor does reminiscing about the death of the (likely mythical) golden age of photojournalism and how much better things were in the past. What is far more interesting is accepting that things are difficult, and then thinking about how to do them anyways.

Three years ago as I was preparing to relocate to Cambodia, I found out at the last minute that I was going to miss Donald Weber’s grant writing workshop by one day. At the time I was terribly disappointed and felt that I was being denied an experience that could have had a huge impact on the future of my work. I kept checking Don’s blog to see when I would have another chance to take the class, but much to my disappointment no such opportunity arose.

Looking back, however, I am actually glad that I wasn’t able to be there because it likely would have stopped me from attending the most recent session at the Contact Photography Festival in Toronto. Had I taken the workshop three years ago, without having completed any long-term personal projects of my own, I doubt the takeaway lessons would have been as actionable or as relevant to my work.

The points outlined below are some of the basic ideas Don put forth on how to write a proposal and don’t come close to conveying the full scope of the methodology he shared during the eight hour session – so if you have a chance to attend the workshop I highly suggest that you do. But for those who can’t be there in person and still want to try their hand at applying for grants, I hope these basic lessons will be helpful – they certainly were for me.

1. Don’t Bore People.

This might sound obvious, but considering that visual creatives often fear the process of writing anything longer than an email, the point is well worth noting. When sitting down in front of an empty page, instead of imagining that you need to write for a panel of people who only enjoy stories that are buried beneath layers of difficult vocabulary, remember that you are applying for money to tell a story. There is no better way to convince people not to give you money than to put them to sleep with your proposal. Of course this is easier said than done, but if your proposal bores you as you write it, it will almost certainly bore those who have to read it.

2. Be concrete.

Don’t use big words when small words will do. This is the same advice imparted by nearly every great writer of the last hundred years, but it can still be tempting to slip the biggest words you know into your text to try and make the proposal sound more authoritative. Don’t do this. Hemingway didn’t need long words, and you don’t either.

3. Be definite and clear.

English in particular has over a million words, and each of them has a particular nuance and subtlety. As photographers or videographers, writing is often not our favoured means of communication, and so we run the risk of not being precise with our words. Depending on how much anxiety writing induces in you, consider using a dictionary and always have someone look over your proposal before sending it in. As Don made very clear, confusingly (or wrongly) written submissions are the first to get thrown out.

4. Be yourself.

This point could be renamed “don’t give them what you think they want”. This is probably the one suggestion that is most applicable to my own tendencies, and something I need to work on in my personal work. In the hyper-competitive media climate, it is all too easy to look to projects that have been successful in the past and to try and emulate them. Likewise it might be tempting to try and change the essence of your work to try and fall in line with whatever organization or panel of judges you are submitting to. While it may seem like a strategic move to target the specific personalities or interests of the judges, Don suggests that this is a mistake.  Grants are ultimately about supporting the unique personal visions of photographers, and so your greatest chance of success lies in staying true to your vision.

5. Create a narrative.

Avoid using “my proposal is” at all costs. Photography grants exist to support the production of independent visual storytelling, and so your proposal should reflect your ability to tell stories. You only have around one page of text to convince someone that your story needs to be told, and the best way to give others confidence in your ability to tell it successfully is to draw them into the narrative of your proposal. Don demonstrated this point with a sentence from a successful proposal from Magnum photographer Alex Majoli, who wanted funding to document violence in Brazil: “If a gun is cheap, than so is a life.” That is an extremely compelling story in less than ten words. Even if I didn’t know how talented Alex was as a photographer, that sentence would have hooked me into wanting more. Comparatively, “My proposal is to document how cheap gun prices have increased violence in Brazil” falls flat.

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Don uses an example sentence from Alex Majoli’s winning proposal to illustrate the power of compelling language in grant writing.

6. Be thoughtful.

Demonstrate not just an artistic eye, but a thoughtful and artistic understanding of the topic. Why should you be trusted with a large sum of money? What will you bring to the discussion that another photographer couldn’t? Why are you the only person capable of doing this story justice?

People want to know that you have an understanding of your subject that transcends general interest. They want to feel that you are invested intellectually at a level beyond the casual observer, otherwise it would be just as effective to commission another photographer. Only by demonstrating a sophisticated level of thoughtfulness about your subject can you expect others to  believe in your vision.

7. Be inventive and avoid cliches

This one is pretty self explanatory. Cliches are cliched for a reason: they’ve been done too many times in the past. If you think you’ve heard something said before, then chances are others have as well. No one wants to fund projects that are derivative clones of what has already been done, so look for a new angle or a way to highlight how your idea is different from what has come before.

These basic concepts are just the tip of the iceberg of information I took away from Don’s class. Hopefully they are helpful in considering how to write a grant proposal of your own, but ultimately there is no substitute for the real thing. The session was nearly eight hours of actionable information, and Don is both an engaging and approachable speaker. I highly recommend that anyone interested in funding personal documentary projects keep an eye on Don’s Tumblr page to see if he will be holding a session in your area – it is well worth your time.

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Out of the Bush: What I Learned While Tree Planting

I am who I am today because of five summers spent living in tents in Canada’s northern forests. As a tree planter I learned what it meant to work hard – harder than anything I had experienced before. And while it nearly killed me during my torturous rookie season, I came out a far, far better person.

Tree planting taught me how to make due with limited resources in a remote location. Over the years I gained the ability to deal with huge amounts of personal discomfort and focus on the task at hand. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that self-pity was a waste of time – everyone was having trouble carrying 50 pounds of trees through mosquito infested swamps, they certainly didn’t need to hear me whining about it. In short, tree planting toughened me in a way that made it possible to work as a photojournalist today. Had I not set out for the bush nearly a decade ago, I sincerely doubt I would be where I am now.

In an effort to bring together the two jobs which have had the most impact on my life, I spent nearly four months in a tree planting camp last year trying to capture the experience with a camera.

Right now thousands of tree planters across Canada are starting their seasons, replanting Canada’s forests by hand. For them it will be as it has always been – simultaneously one of the best and worst possible ways to spend a summer. And while can’t say I’ll miss the job itself, every Spring I feel a powerful nostalgia for the truly unique lifestyle.

For those reading this from a destitute hotel room somewhere in the Canadian north, good luck and happy planting.

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A foreman checks his map, trying to decide where to put his planters.

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Tree planters walk to work, carrying all their gear, food, and water down a 4 km muddy trail.

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A planter moves through the aftermath of a forest fire, replanting the burned zone with new trees.

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A tree seedling, recently planter in the cracked soil of northern Alberta oil country. A good planter can plant thousands of trees per day.

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A planter works an especially good piece of land on a rainy day. He will go on to make over $600.

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A planter’s face is covered with soot and charcoal after working to replant a burnt forest.

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A planter falls up to his knees in soft mud. The ground, open and flat, should be a planter’s dream, but heavy rains have rendered areas of it unworkable.

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A planter drinks water from a gas container. The vessels are common among tree planters because they are high capacity, tough, and can be used as a stool if necessary.

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A planter silhouetted agains an oncoming rainstorm on the oil sands of northern Alberta.

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Planters work to dig toilets for the camp. Each time the camp is moved, which typically happens multiple times per season, the camps need to be rebuilt.

Foremen use the camp toilets on a day off.

Foremen use the camp toilets on a day off. There is little privacy in a planting camp.

Planters pick thorns out of eachother's hands at the end of a work day.

Planters pick thorns out of each other’s hands at the end of a work day.

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The camp’s cook hangs from a log deck. Canada is the world’s biggest exporter of forest products.

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The camp sits around a fire on the last night of the season. Some planters will go on to other jobs, but many will head back to their province of origin.

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Planters watch the northern lights.

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Always Be Planting: A Season in Pictures

For most tree planters in Canada, the 2013 season is finished. Some planters will find spots on smaller summer plants, and some will branch out into other forestry related jobs, such as working as an attendant in a forest fire fighting camp, but the majority are headed back to wherever home is.

The following is a visual summary of the three month season, more or less in the order things happened. Overall it was an incredibly tough season to be a tree planter in northern Alberta. Equipment failures and heavy rains plagued the camp at every opportunity, and most planters did not make as much money as in previous seasons. Despite the constant adversity, camp morale stayed high throughout the season and many planters were already talking about their plans for the next summer’s plant as they said their goodbyes. Full of highs and lows, both physically and mentally, the 2013 was certainly a memorable one.

Click here to look back at the complete collection of posts about tree planting.

A member of the camp's management team sits in a housing trailer in the  company's regional equipment yard. Arriving several weeks before the planters, the management team works to gather all the necessary equipment to ensure a smooth start.

A member of the camp’s management team sits in a housing trailer in the company’s regional equipment yard. Arriving several weeks before the planters, the management team works to gather all the necessary equipment to ensure a smooth start.

Management staff dig frozen trees out of a snow cache, where they have sat buried since they were trucked in along an ice road the previous fall. If the trees are not dug out far enough in advance they will be frozen and therefore unplantable.

Management staff dig frozen trees out of a snow cache, where they have sat buried since they were trucked in along an ice road the previous fall. If the trees are not dug out far enough in advance they will be frozen and therefore unplantable.

A moose skeleton is surrounded in fur after being picked clean by forest carnivores and insects.

A moose skeleton is surrounded in fur after being picked clean by forest carnivores and insects.

A foreman and a planter shield their eyes from the winds of a helicopter rotor.

A foreman and a planter shield their eyes from the winds of a helicopter rotor.

A planter expresses frustration during a slow and wet camp move. The camp must be moved several times over the course of the season and the planters are unpaid for this mandatory work.

A planter expresses frustration during a slow and wet camp move. The camp must be moved several times over the course of the season and the planters are unpaid for this mandatory work.

A planter walks past a reclaimed tailing pond. Tailing ponds are large resevoirs of the toxic byproducts created by the extraction of oil from sand in northern Alberta. Working for a major oil company, the planters are tasked with reclaiming these former industrial sites with trees.

A planter walks past a reclaimed tailing pond. Tailing ponds are large resevoirs of the toxic byproducts created by the extraction of oil from sand in northern Alberta. Working for a major oil company, the planters are tasked with reclaiming these former industrial sites with trees.

Two planters work together to set up the camp's "dry tent", a small shelter where clothes can be dried after a wet day.

Two planters work together to set up the camp’s “dry tent”, a small shelter where clothes can be dried after a wet day.

A planter watches Raven, a camp dog, from inside his tent. Tree planters, unlike other resource based workers, are required to sleep almost exclusively outside and must provide all their own gear.

A planter watches Raven, a camp dog, from inside his tent. Tree planters, unlike other resource based workers, are required to sleep almost exclusively outside and must provide all their own gear.

A planter drinks water out of a gas container. These are common water vessels for tree planters as they are easy to carry and hard to break, and can be used as a makeshift stool.

A planter drinks water out of a gas container. These are common water vessels for tree planters as they are easy to carry and hard to break, and can be used as a makeshift stool.

A planters works past a log deck on a rainy day in northern Alberta.

A planters works past a log deck on a rainy day in northern Alberta.

Two planters, who have been friends since high school, wait to be driven back to camp at the end of a long and muddy walk.

Two planters, who have been friends since high school, wait to be driven back to camp at the end of a long and muddy walk.

A foreman smokes by the fire after the camp's final tree has been planted. For most tree planters, the 2013 season is over.

A foreman smokes by the fire after the camp’s final tree has been planted. For most tree planters, the 2013 season is over.

Click here to see the complete collection of posts about tree planting.

On a personal level, my time documenting this iconic summer job is finished for the time being. I am working on a final post as a response to numerous emails, in which I will attempt to explain the mechanics of the job a little more clearly and, with a combination of words and pictures, describe the addictive allure of this truly weird job. 

 

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Always Be Planting: Late Season Mud and Cold

For most tree planters in northern Alberta, the 2013 season is drawing to an end. Though some exceptionally motivated people will continue on to work on special contracts, for most planters the last trees of the summer will be planted over the next few days.

This season has been arduous by anyone’s standards. Heavy rains, erratic weather and unexpected delays have worn down even the most experienced planters in the camp. And in true tree planting fashion, the last shifts of the season will be some of the most difficult. Rain has ruined the access roads to the blocks, meaning that planters have to walk up to 10 km through thick mud that sticks to their boots and drains both energy and morale. Even though planters are motivated by money, there are many who would rather the season be over than struggle through these conditions. But tree planting is a job of endurance, and for the most part the planters will see the job through to the end.

Planters are trucked into the block as far as the vehicles can drive before being stopped by thick mud.

Planters are trucked into the block as far as the vehicles can drive before being stopped by thick mud.

A planter works a thick section of land, overgrown and littered with debris referred to as 'slash'.

A planter works a thick section of land, overgrown and littered with debris referred to as ‘slash’.

A planter drinks a mixture of water and electrolytes to try and replace the minerals and salts lost from sweating.

A planter drinks a mixture of water and electrolytes to try and replace the minerals and salts lost from sweating, despite the low temperature.

Planters walk through thick mud that the trucks are unable to drive through. Unusually heavy rains have made accessing the cut blocks difficult.

Planters walk through thick mud that the trucks are unable to drive through. Unusually heavy rains have made accessing the cut blocks difficult.

A planter huddles with others on a cold and wet day.

A planter huddles with others on a cold and wet day.

A planter tries to sleep on a cold drive out of the blocks.

A planter tries to sleep on a cold drive out of the blocks.

Planters wait to be picked up after a muddy walk.

Planters wait to be picked up after a muddy walk.

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Always Be Planting: The People You Meet

When people find out you are a tree planter, they often seem to mentally classify you as some sort of new age environmentalist hippy. A common first reaction is along the lines of “Oh, it’s great that you do that for the planet.” But people who know the industry understand that it is only an eco-friendly job in the most indirect of ways, and that the people who do this job are more likely to be well educated and athletic than dreadlocked dumpster divers. That is not to say that there is anything wrong with living off the grid, but rather that tree planters are a diverse tribe of people and can’t be generalized as easily as others may think.

Ranging in age from as young as 17 to well into their 30’s, tree planters find their way to this iconic Canadian summer job in different ways and with different motivations. Ironically, those who take the job with the intention of trying to help the environment are usually some of the least productive and often the first to quit. Likewise, people who come tree planting in pursuit of some sort of life changing “experience” are usually among the least successful. The very best planters are more akin to competitive athletes and are motivated by money – whether for school, for travel, or for debts.

Tree planting is unique in the sense that it has a white collar work force – mostly middle class and university educated – performing the most blue collar of jobs. Not many other labour intensive industries in the developed world require workers to sleep on the ground, carry out a multitude of unpaid tasks each day, and demands that they provide all their own equipment. Most tree planters would also, strangely, refuse most other resource related jobs (such as oil field work or mining, for example), even if they were higher paying. There is something special about the combination of hard work, good money, and remote living that brings these groups of people together each summer. Regardless of their motivations, tree planters are more than a stereotype.

A planter on day off wearing a newly purchased thrift store dress. She studies outdoor recreation.

A planter on day off wearing a newly purchased thrift store dress. She studies outdoor recreation in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

A planter's face and eyes are swollen from insect bites. Before coming tree planting, this 28-year-old worked as a social media marketer.

A planter’s face and eyes are swollen from insect bites. Before coming tree planting, this 28-year-old worked as a social media marketer.

A foreman enters his crews numbers into a notebook so the camp supervisor knows how much each planter should be paid. He is a university graduate who returns to Toronto to live an urban lifestyle during the winter months.

A foreman enters his crews numbers into a notebook so the camp supervisor knows how much each planter should be paid. He is a university graduate who returns to Toronto to live an urban lifestyle during the winter months.

A planter smokes a cigarette in camp. In the off season, he studies neuroscience.

A planter smokes a cigarette in camp. In the off season, he studies neuroscience and has  around 8 more years of school before reaching his goal of  becoming a doctor.

A planter sits at the end of a work day, waiting for dinner. Between this season and the last he drove through the Southern U.S. and Mexico, living out of a car with his girlfriend.

A planter sits at the end of a work day, waiting for dinner. Between this season and the last he drove through the southern United States and Mexico, living out of a car with his girlfriend.

A planter sits in a "crummy", a large personnel box mounted to the back of a pickup truck. She is a graduate of environmental science and travels when not planting.

A planter sits in a “crummy”, a large personnel box mounted to the back of a pickup truck. She holds a degree in environmental science and travels when not planting.

A planter sits on the steps of a rural Alberta church, taking a break from a long drive. He is midways through a commerce degree and will leave for a semester abroad in Sweden when the season is finished.

A planter sits on the steps of a rural Alberta church, taking a break from a long drive. He is midways through a commerce degree and will leave for a semester abroad in Sweden when the season is finished.

For the complete collection of posts about tree planting, click here.

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Always Be Planting: The Mid-Season Grind

A single production day of tree planting is a tiring experience, with some university studies estimating that a male planter can burn up to 8000 calories during a 10 hour day. While most people could struggle their way through one day on a cut block, a “professional” tree planter works five to six days a week for the entire summer. As the days and shifts pass, the rugged living and intense physical exertion can wear down even the most motivated people. A good tree planter needs to be able to keep up a rigorous pace of work for not just a day, or a week, but for several months.

Over time injuries and equipment failures increase in frequency. Personality clashes in the camp can escalate. First year planters can get frustrated and quit. Once the excitement of starting a new season wears off, tree planting can become a battle of attrition.

Planters and management unload trees from a refrigerated transport truck, known as a "reefer". Since planters are in peak production shape, trees must be brought in continuously to keep up.

Planters and management unload trees from a refrigerated transport truck, known as a “reefer”. Since planters are in peak production shape, trees must be brought in continuously to keep up.

A planter works along a ridgeline on a rain day.

A planter works along a ridgeline on a rain day. The summer of 2013 has been one of the wettest in Alberta’s recent history, forcing evacuations in the province’s biggest city, Calgary.

A planter uses duct tape to protect his fingers.

A planter uses duct tape to protect his fingers.

A planter works an especially good piece of land and will go on to make over $700 in one day. As the season progresses and planters will push themselves to make as much money as possible before the contract finishes.

A planter works an especially good piece of land and will go on to make over $700 in one day. As the season progresses planters will push themselves to make as much money as possible before the contract finishes.

A planter falls asleep with a cigarette in his mouth, exhausted from a late night.

A planter falls asleep with a cigarette in his mouth, exhausted from a late night.

Planters push their crew van out of soft sand.

Planters push their crew van out of soft sand.

The camp's tree runner replaces a flat tire. Equipment is used relentlessly and as the season progresses things break frequestly. The tree runners act as the camp's technicians, and are the ones who typically fix things.

The camp’s tree runner replaces a flat tire. Equipment is used relentlessly and as the season progresses things break frequestly. The tree runners act as the camp’s technicians, and are the ones who typically fix things.

A foreman takes a break in from loading boxes into a trailer for disposal. Each folded box held 270 trees and these empty boxes represent the trees the camp has planted on this contract.

A foreman takes a break from loading boxes into a trailer for disposal. Each folded box held 270 trees and these empty boxes represent the trees the camp has planted on this contract.

A planter falls asleep in his car at the end of a work day. As the season draws on, the fatigue builds.

A planter falls asleep in his car at the end of a work day. As the season draws on, the fatigue builds.

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Always Be Planting: Hurry Up and Wait

One of the most attractive aspects of a tree planter’s job is the fact that, other than physically planting the trees, they have virtually no responsibilities. Logistical problems fall under the purview of the supervisor and tree runners, daily transportation and block management are handled by the crew bosses, and camp cooks make sure there is always food ready. At the end of a work day a planter needs to make no decisions more complicated than whether or not to eat a second helping of dinner.

With little responsibility, however, comes a loss of control over their lives. Everything from the prices they will be paid per tree to the items in the breakfast buffet is determined by someone else. Planters often have little to no information about big picture issues, such as when a contract will end or when they will have a day off. So when there are no trees to plant and no one is telling them what is happening, planters have no choice but to wait. Sometimes they wait angrily, sometimes happily, or sometimes introspectively, but in the end they are simply sitting idle until someone tells them otherwise. A good management team can minimize this unprofitable down time, but ultimately patience must be among the virtues of a  good tree planter. When confronted with delays, the best planters will simply wait harder.

Planters try to get some extra minutes of sleep on the ride to work. Tree planters wake up at 6am most days, and sleep is precious.

Planters try to get some extra minutes of sleep on the ride to work. Tree planters wake up at 6am most days, and sleep is precious.

A planter puts her feet up at the end of a work day.

A planter puts her feet up at the end of a work day.

A planter waits with Jasper, a camp dog.

A planter waits with Jasper, a camp dog.

A planter waits for his crew's vehicle to leave for the blocks in the morning.

A planter waits for his crew’s vehicle to leave for the blocks in the morning.

Planters nap on each other on a delayed morning start.

Planters nap on each other on a delayed morning start.

Planters wait outside a Walmart. Much of a tree planter's day off is dedicated to running minor errands, such as laundry and picking up essential items like bug spray and cigarettes.

Planters wait outside a Walmart. Much of a tree planter’s day off is dedicated to running minor errands, such as laundry and picking up essential items like bug spray and cigarettes.

Planters tage refuge from the rain inside their crew's vehicle.

Planters take refuge from the rain inside their crew vehicle.

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Always Be Planting: Getting Wet

Tree planting is, in of itself, an extremely demanding job – both mentally and physically. University studies have estimated that a shift of tree planting is equivalent to the effort of running two marathons. There is enough for tree planters to deal with on a daily bases without battling the elements.

Yet planters are expected to, and generally want to, work in nearly every weather condition. Snow, hail, rain, and extreme heat are all obstacles to overcome, and each offers its own set of challenges for planters. The heat can be a killer, and save drinking copious amounts of water and wearing light clothing, there isn’t much to be done except sweat through it and take breaks as needed. Snow is probably they easiest to overcome. As long as the planter wears layers of clothing and keeps moving, they will stay warm and relatively dry. But rain can be miserable. Some planters thrive in the wet, but for many, including myself, rain is utterly depressing. Clothes become saggy and chafe in embarrassing places. Trees become heavier as their dirt pods soak up the water. What was once solid ground becomes soupy and unstable, and feet rot inside soggy boots. And as soon as it lets up the mosquitos rise out of the earth in maddening swarms.

The spring/summer of 2013 has been unusually wet in Alberta, with cities in both the north and the south experiencing heavy flooding and in some cases evacuation. This causes all manner of problems for tree planters, both direct and indirect. Roads have become impassable which halts production, and therefore affects earnings. The tree deliverers have often been unable to access the work sites to bring the trees to the planters, getting ATVs and heavy equipment stuck in thick mud, also stopping the planters from making money. The wet clay ground has repeatedly dried and been soaked and dried again, forming ankles twisting ruts.

Even for those who don’t mind getting wet, the rain has undeniably been this camp’s enemy.

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A planter waits to go to work on a rainy morning.

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A camp foreman tries to stay dry.

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One of the camp’s deliverers works in cramped and wet conditions to secure a load of equipment.

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Planters work together in the rain to load broken equipment on a trailer, hopefully to be repaired in town.

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A planter struggles through knee-deep mud. Though this block shoud be a planter’s dream (open, and with soft ground), heavy rains have made it treacherous, and the numerous sinkholes are unpredictable.

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A planter pauses between bag-ups under a light rain.

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A planter stands in the flooded entrance to the camp, contemplating the best way to drain the water. Heavy rains have trapped the planter’s vehicles in the camp and only the heavy duty 4×4 trucks are able to get out.

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Planters stay dry at the end of a work day in the camp’s dry tent – a propane heated shelter where wet clothes can be hung overnight.

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Always Be Planting: Camp Life

Though tree planting is fundamentally just a job, in reality it is much more. An all encompassing lifestyle, planters live together in remote areas for long stretches of time. Camp life is as much a part of tree planting as the work itself and the social bonds formed are what makes tree planting such an addictive experience.

The camp's head tree deliverer attempts to build a fuel shelter but is intercepter by Jasper, a camp dog.

The camp’s head tree deliverer attempts to build a fuel shelter but is intercepted by Jasper, a camp dog.

Planters wait to be flown out of camp for a day off. Waiting is a part of everyday life for treeplanters who often have no control over schedules or transportation.

Planters wait to be flown out of camp for a day off. Waiting is a part of everyday life for treeplanters who often have no control over schedules or transportation.

Foremen use the camp toilets on a day off.

Foremen use the camp toilets on a day off.

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Planters and a camp dog try to chase a bear away from the camp site. Bears, drawn to camp’s food, can become a serious problem.

A foreman's legs are covered in dirt and charcoal after a day of work.

A foreman’s legs are covered in dirt and charcoal after a day of work.

Jasper, a camp dog. Dogs are common in planting camps and provide bear security as well as entertaintment.

Jasper, a camp dog. Dogs are common in planting camps and provide bear security as well as entertaintment.

One of the camp's tree deliverers takes a break from cleaning up the camp.

One of the camp’s tree deliverers takes a break from cleaning up the camp.

A planter shaves on a day off.

A planter shaves on a day off.

The camp's cooks prepare dinner. Cooks work the longest hours in the camp and cooking for more than 40 people in a remote environment is a constant challenge.

The camp’s cooks prepare dinner. Cooks work the longest hours in the camp and cooking for more than 40 people in a remote environment is a constant challenge.

Planters sit around a camp fire and watch the northern lights.

Planters sit around a camp fire and watch the northern lights.

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Always Be Planting: The Beginning

After countless technical issues – a catastrophic water loss, faulty equipment, and broken vehicles, among other things – the tree planters put their first trees of the 2013 season in the ground.

The contract is a somewhat unusual one. Massive forest fires devastated large areas of northern Alberta in previous years, and the planters have been tasked to reforest the area. The blocks are covered by the charred remains of burnt trees, which weave together and make moving through the land a sharp and dirty nightmare. The planters are constantly getting poked in the eyes by the skeletal trees, and they are coated in ash and charcoal from constantly rubbing against the blackened branches. The moving is very slow, frustrating, and often painful. The temperatures soar to unseasonable highs and many planters, unused to the elements so early in the season, are incapacitated by heat stroke and exhaustion. To make matters worse, a stomach virus spreads through the camp and many of the planters miss days of work as they are crippled with diarrhea and nausea.

Despite the adverse situation, the planters in the camp are mostly experienced ones, and morale remains high. People are starting to make money, which is what tree planting is ultimately about.

A planter sits in a vehicle in camp, waiting to go to the planting blocks.

A planter sits in a vehicle in camp, waiting to go to the planting blocks.

A tree planter moves through burnt trees. Forest fires burned across large areas of northern Alberta and the planters have been tasked with reforesting the burn zones.

A tree planter moves through burnt trees. Forest fires burned across large areas of northern Alberta and the planters have been tasked with reforesting the burn zones.

A veteran planter of 13 seasons drops a piece of flagging tape. The coloured tape allows her to see which areas of the overgrown land have already been planted.

A veteran planter of 13 seasons drops a piece of flagging tape. The coloured tape allows her to see which areas of the overgrown land have already been planted.

A planter emerges from his land to get more trees.

A planter emerges from his land to get more trees.

A first year planter puts a tree in the ground.

A first year planter puts a tree in the ground.

Extreme heat takes a toll on planters early in the season as their bodies aren't yet in peak planting shape.

Extreme heat takes a toll on planters early in the season as their bodies aren’t yet in peak planting shape.

A planter is covered in charcoal after working in a burn block.

A planter is covered in charcoal after working in a burn block.

A foreman drives planters back to camp at the end of the day. With walks of up to 5km to and from the active planting blocks, a ride home is treasured.

A foreman drives planters back to camp at the end of the day. With walks of up to 5km to and from the active planting blocks, a ride home is treasured.

Planters pick thorns out of eachother's hands at the end of a work day.

Planters pick thorns out of eachother’s hands at the end of a work day.

Blisters form on a planter's feet, so painful that she is unable to work for several days.

Blisters form on a planter’s feet, so painful that she is unable to work for several days.

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