A blog by Bill Hess

Running Dog Publications

P.O. Box 872383 Wasilla, Alaska 99687


All photos and text © Bill Hess, unless otherwise noted 
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Wasilla is the place where I have lived for the past 29 years - sort of. The house in which my wife and I raised our family sits here, but I have made my rather odd career as a different sort of photojournalist by continually wandering off to other places to photograph people and gather information, which I have then put together in various publications that have served the Alaska Native Eskimo, Indian and Aleut communities.

Although I did not have a great of free time to devote to this rather strange community, named after a Tanaina Athabascan Indian chief who knew Wasilla in the way that I so impossibly long to, I have still documented it regularly over the past quarter-century plus. In the early days, my Wasilla photographs focused mostly upon my children and the events they participated in - baseball, football, figure skating, hockey, frog catching, fire cracker detonation, Fourth of July parade - that sort of thing. 

In 2002, I purchased my first digital camera and then, whenever I was home, I began to photograph Wasilla upon a daily basis, but not in a conventional way. These were grab shots - whatever caught my eye as I took my many long walks or drove through the town, shooting through the car window at people and scenes that appeared and disappeared before I could even focus and compose in the traditional photographic way.

Thus, the Wasilla portion of this blog will be devoted both to the images that I take as I wander about and those that I have taken in the past. Despite the odd, random, nature of the images, I believe they communicate something powerful about this town that I have never seen expressed anywhere else. 

Wasilla is a sprawling community that has been slapped down hodge-podge upon what was so recently wilderness of the most exquisite beauty. In its design, it is deliberately anti-zoned, anti-planned. In the building of Wasilla, the desire to make a buck has trumped aesthetics and all other considerations. This town, built in the midst of exquisite beauty, has largely become an unsightly, unattractive, mess of urban sprawl. Largely because of this, it often seems to me that Wasilla is a community with no sense of community, a town devoid of town soul.

Yet - Wasilla is my home and if I am lucky it will be until I grow old and die. Despite its horrific failings, it is still made of the stuff of any small city: people; moms and dads, grammas and grampas, teens, children, churches, bars, professionals, laborers, soldiers, missionaries, artists, athletes, geniuses, do-gooders, hoodlums, the wealthy, the homeless, the rational and logical, the slightly insane and the wholly insane - and, yes, as is now obvious to the whole world, politicians, too.

So perhaps, if one were to search hard enough, it might just be possible to find a sense of community here, and a town soul. So, using my skills as a photojournalist and a writer, I hope to do just that. If this place has a sense of community, I will find it. If there is a town soul to Wasilla, I will document it. I won't compete with the newspapers. Hell no! But as time and income allow, it will be fun to wander into the places where the folks described above gather, and then put what I find on this blog.


by 300...

Anywhere within a 300 mile radius of Wasilla. This encompasses perhaps the most wild, dramatic, gorgeous, beautiful section of land and sea to be found in any comparable space anywhere on Earth. I can never explore it all, but I will do the best that I can, and will here share what I find and experience with you.  

and then some...

Anywhere else in the world that I happen to get to, such as Point Lay, Alaska; Missoula, Montana; Serenki, Chukotka, Russia; or Bangalore, India. Perhaps even Lagos, Nigeria. I have both a desire and scheme to get me there. It is a long shot. We shall see if I succeed.

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Three iPhone studies of Lisa drinking an iced-Americano at Kaladi Bros; tomorrow, I begin a trip into the near past

Study # 1: Lisa with two red straws in her iced Americano.

Lisa did not spend very much time in Arizona - just a few days. Her UAA finals are coming up and she needed to get back to her studies. Originally, Lisa and I had planned to be in India during Thanksgiving, but that plan got changed. Assuming things go as I hope, I will tell the full story of why we had planned to be there and why those plans got changed the next time I actually do go to India.

As things turned out, it was good that those plans changed. It would have been awful to in India while struck down by shingles and then to find out from half-a-world away that my wife and Lisa's mother had suffered a serious gall bladder attack, had taken an emergency ride to the hospital and had undergone two surgeries.

Anyway, we did not go to India, Lisa went to Arizona for just three or four days, came home and today drove out to see us.

She wanted to go out for coffee. Metro Cafe, of course, was not only closed for the holiday weekend but is always closed on Sundays, so we went to Kaladi Bros instead.

Lisa brought her own jar and had the barista fill it with iced Americano.

Study # 2: Lisa uses two red straws to stir her iced Americano.

I brought my camera, but once we arrived I discovered that I had forgot to put the battery back in after I had recharged it overnight. So I pulled out my iPhone and used it to document the experience.

We spoke of things in Arizona, and of things here, too.

I would tell some of those things, but I am feeling very tired and lazy.

Study #3: Lisa ponders as the two red straws rest in her iced-Americano.

As it happened, at the table next to us sat a former State Senator who had gained fame in the late '90's and early 2000's when he...

Oh, hell! My Ma always said, "if you can't say anything good about someone, don't say anything at all."

I don't always follow that advice, but it is still the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and it has been a pleasant, even if miserable, weekend and so I might as well let it end that way. I will not say anything bad about the guy although... Don't say it, Bill, don't say it... remember your mother's words.. He is not from Wasilla. He is from another town.

Now... regular readers know that there have been some big gaps in my blog coverage over the past several months, among them everything that happened during the hiatus I took through the last half of summer as well as my trip to New York City.

Even when I was on hiatus, I kept photographing at my normal pace and my trip to New York - well, that was all about photography.

At the moment, it is kind of hard for me to get about and photograph as I would like, there are only a few hours of dim daylight, so I am going to post some of this stuff that I did nothing with. Not all of it - there is too much. It would take me two or three months.

I will begin tomorrow with a post from the hiatus. One day, although I did not plan to or expect to or even imagine that I might, I wound up taking a very short walk with a very famous American from the upper-midwest who was visiting Alaska. Notwithstanding the fact that he is growing old, he was accompanied by a very beautiful and talented lady.

Assuming that I can find the pictures, I will post a few frames from that walk tomorrow.


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Reader Comments (2)

Glad to see Lisa's back!!

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCyndy E

Garrison Keillor????

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenternancy in ak

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