In the summer of 2015, I came across an article on the National Geographic website. The article was about a group of men, who looked like they were from another century. Rugged-looking men wearing incredible outfits, living in the great outdoors. Who are these men? And what makes them go out into the mountains with no modern equipment, and surviving only on what nature has to offer? These men belong to a group called The American Mountain Men—reenactors of the fur trade that flourished in North America from roughly 1800 to 1840. When we think of American history, we often think about the Wild West and cowboys. Unfortunately, the history of the mountain men is something that has gotten little or no attention. But the existence of many passageways between East and West-America is due to the mountain men who have charted a lot during their fur trade trips.
These fascinating stories quickly took hold of me and I began my online quest to find out more about this group of men. I’ve encountered numerous paintings, books, and articles online about the fur trade and the mountain men, but there was little or no visual documentation about the group that is reliving this history today. It made me wonder if I could get in contact with some of these modern mountain men. By contacting various historians and museums I managed to get hold of Duane ‘Badger’ Richardson, a well-respected member of the American Mountain Men Association. I explained my vision to Duane and how I would like to document their way of life. He told me several mountain men rendezvous were being held throughout America but that they wouldn’t let me attend. Traditional mountain men rendezvous must always be completely period-correct (1800 – 1840). No contemporary technology or contemporary clothing is allowed. This also explains why there is little to no visual documentation about this group. Duane proposed to set up a rendezvous focused on getting stuff out there for people to see, and hopefully to spur interest in the younger generation.
After a few months of planning, we managed to set
up a rendezvous with some of the most distinguished members of the American Mountain Men Association. This meeting was held in May 2016 in a Rocky Mountains valley. We spent five days in the mountains photographing, hunting, shooting guns, throwing knives, eating beavers, and absorbing all the knowledge these men gratefully shared with us.
Almost a year after I took my first shots I looked at the series and started wondering do these images represent the mountain men the way I had interpreted them? The answer is no. These men spent countless hours on the move, in every weather condition you can possibly think of. So, why didn’t my images showcase that feeling? I reached out to Duane and told him I would like to come back and shoot some more. In December of 2017, I was happy to restart my adventure and provide the best possible representation of this group. It resulted in me traveling back and forth to the United States seven more times in between commercial assignments in 2018.
These seven extra adventures were short but intense.
I would often fly on Thursdays, taking three to four connecting flights, after which I often had to drive two to three hours to get to my destination. The last part would always be on foot. As 2018 was a very busy year with commercial projects, I would fly back on Sunday afternoon or early Monday morning to get back to work on Tuesday. So most of the time I didn’t spend more than three days in the US. This grueling travel schedule was accompanied by little or no sleep because I would be shooting long days (before sunrise until after sunset) and carrying the necessary camera gear by myself. Think of a camera bag weighing over twenty kilos plus a flash with a light stand. And to top it off, on the fourth trip I couldn’t shoot anything because I got serious food poisoning on one of my connecting flights ending up laying in a motel bed (or sitting on the toilet) for two entire days before flying back. But in the end, this whole adventure was worth every minute.
I feel privileged to have spent time with these men at the most beautiful locations, but also in some of the harshest conditions I’ve ever been in. From -25°C in the north of America, close to the Canadian border, to +40°C in the dry wastelands in central USA.
The result is this 240 page book, a homage to
these fearless pioneers facing the challenges mother nature throws at them. How incredibly inventive and perfectionistic these men are at honing their craft. I am incredibly grateful for the wonderful stories, hospitality, and adventures that these people have entrusted to me.
I hope you will enjoy the stories and images as much as I had making them.
International Dutch award-winning photographer Jeroen Nieuwhuis, born in 1991, started photography through his love for skateboarding. He spent countless hours on the streets skateboarding and learning new tricks with his friends. One way he got inspired was by looking at how the pros did their tricks. By looking at skateboard DVDs and magazines Jeroen was not only impressed by these tricks but also by the photos he saw in the magazines.
At the age of 11, Jeroen bought his first camera with the money he got for his birthday. It was a small 0.4-megapixel camera that had an internal memory for 36 photos, and no screen on the back. The images could only be viewed when connected to a computer. But that didn’t stop Jeroen from carrying it wherever ever he went. He started trying to recreate the images he saw in the skateboard magazines with his friends.
As he developed his eye the need for better equipment quickly came. After several smaller camera’s he got his first DSLR at the age of 16 from his parents. The ability to experiment with shutter speeds, apertures, and lenses opened a whole new playing field. As obsessed as he was with photography, he quickly spent more time shooting than riding his skateboard. At that same
time, he started working for several online skateboard magazines, covering contests throughout the Netherlands and Belgium.
Jeroen learned most of his skills by reading blogs
and watching online tutorials. Besides skateboard photography, his interest began to expand to different areas. The use of light in images was something he always found extremely fascinating. By experimenting with his friends and models he built up his first body of ‘commercial’ work. Jeroen started emailing these images to different art-directors and advertising agencies.
Quickly his work and clients grew and from the age
of 19, he was shooting nationwide ad campaigns.
With his clientele expanding, he badly needed a space. This resulted in the opening of NEW DAY studio with longtime skateboarding friend and cinematographer Erik Journée. This collaboration turned out to be a successful match as the studio attracted clients such as Heineken, JBL, Mentos, Philips, and more in the first few months of opening.
Nowadays Jeroen is privileged to work for some of
the largest companies and received numerous prizes
for his work such as the Prix de la Photographie in Paris, Red Bull Illume, Tokyo International Foto Awards,
Fine Art Photography Awards, and the ND Awards
to name a few.
Besides his commercial assignments, Jeroen travels
the world for his personal projects. Taking him from the upper north of Norway to the warm favelas in Brazil, Cuba, and the United States to find people with interesting lives and stories to photograph. His biggest project so far is the documentation of a group in the United States who go by the name of The Mountain Men. Resulting in a 200+ page book containing wide documentation of this group throughout different seasons shot in some of the most beautiful but also harsh conditions, these men are putting themselves out to preserve the knowledge and traditions of the original Mountain Men. The book contains their history, travel stories, and there are descriptions under every image, taking the reader on a historical journey.