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Rustic Falls Archives

Sept. 2020


Rustic Falls is a Nature Camp in Burlington, WI a little over an hour outside of Chicago. This place holds a large significance in my life. It was started by my mom and dad when I was 7 and my sister was 11. My dad was just given 11 months to live after a stage 4 diagnosis of colon cancer. He created the camp to be a space for young people and families to be themselves, for people to reconnect in times of hardship, and for folks to spend time in and with nature. Since having our first group in 2010, we have had hundreds of groups and families come up. This place has shaped the way I understand the world and it's what led me to being interested in human development, documentary photography, and education. My dad passed away in 2014, but my mom, my sister, and I - along with so many other family and friends continue to run the camp and keep my dad's vision alive - a vision that once was an idea that has become a physical reality. 


People hold so many stories and face heavy and complex societal pressures under racial capitalism. The camp might not transform these structural foundations that produce these societal problems, but I feel like gives some insight on what a liberated world could look like - one where every person is free of societal and institutional pressures + violence, one where we allow ourselves to have imaginations the way we encourage our youth to have, one where we treat the earth as a living organism (because it is). A world that doesn't center whiteness, but one where everyone is able to center community and relationship building. We are far from that world on many levels, but being at the camp gives a glimpse at what that world might look and feel like. A place where people can (hopefully) feel psychologically free wherever they are at in their life.. even if it it just for a second.  

In recent years of becoming politicized, I have reconciled the ways in which the camp exists within the non profit industrial complex. For the folks that come to the camp for either a day, a weekend or a week - in reality it is a blimp in time. This is not to downplay the work, energy, and time put into the camp by so many people or to look past the amount of joy that this place brings, or even limit the legacy of my dad, but it is to say that a world where we restructure systems and give everyone access to connect, to create, to peacefully exist and thrive on a daily basis is possible. This is something Rustic Falls facilitates and has made me see what fills our cups as humans - imagination, human connection, vulnerability, etc. This place has made me believe an alternative world is possible.. to see physical and psychological liberation as a basic human right and not as a thing for the privileged few or as a "lottery system". This world is not only possible, but we as a society would all benefit from it. 

For myself, the camp has always been a space where I don't have to limit my own imagination. It still exists within the confines of our white-supremacist, imperalist, hyper-capitalist, anti-worker, anti-BIPOC, anti-immigrant, ableist, consumerist, heteronormative, patriarchal, settler-colonial, over-policed and profit driven society - one where many folks aren't even able to access their most basic physical and psychological needs. This reality cannot be denied. In this context, it is a space that operates as a way for people to connect, to learn, to create, to love, to reconcile, to build, to belong, to be vulnerable - things humans naturally desire but contradict the goals and directions of neoliberalism. As an educator and image maker I firmly believe we are not free until all folks in a society are free. Humans are born with great capacities to love, to connect, and to create - my experience at the camp has reaffirmed this lesson over and over and over again since I was 7. Every person wants to feel like they belong, like they have a place - people deserve to live in that world.  I would like to live in that world. 

This project operates as a continuous archive of groups at the camp over the years. (eventually be an archive of most of the photographs I've taken in the past 7+ years since I started documenting groups).


This archive is dedicated to my father, who fought damn hard to be on this earth and loved life and the people he knew dearly. He not only taught me to work hard, but that being vulnerable is often times the greatest strength humans have. Everything I do is connected to him, and the camp will always be a space where I can feel his presence. 

Otis 2019.JPG
RefugeeOne Weekend 2019.jpg
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