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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iPadding it: with Jobe, Kalib, Margie, Chicago, Jim and Pistol

I have been wanting an iPad since they first came out - mostly, because I want to see the capabilities for online magazine and e-photo-book publishing, but until now I have not been able to justify the expense. I justify it now because I had pretty much resigned myself to the idea that I was going to have to purchase a new computer that would cost many times as much as the iPad, but now that I don't have to, then an iPad seems a good investment.

Of course, the iPad comes with a built-in camera. The resolution is low and the quality less than the iPhone, but I love any camera I can get my hands on and I worry less about technical quality than if I can use it to capture a feeling in the picture.

So, all of today's images were taken with my new iPad.

I started out with Margie and me.

Jobe and me next. He and Kalib came yesterday afternoon and will be here through today, maybe into tomorrow. I'm not sure.

Kalib, eating peanut butter and jelly.

I went to bed about midnight and, as always, when these boys overnight, Kalib slept with me and Jobe with Margie in the guest room. I spent an hour reading, Miss New India, a book that I first heard about from an Alan Cheuse review on NPR and he convinced me that I must read it. It is the first book that I will have read on an e-reader - in this case, the iPad.

It was fun, because I did not have to turn any lights on and page turning was instantaneous. At first, I thought I preferred reading a paper book, but after I had been at it for awhile I began to change my mind. I wouldn't want to read a book on an iPad while soaking in the tub, though.

In the morning, when I woke up for good sometime after 7:00 AM, I found Kalib sleeping like this, and so picked up the iPad and shot.

The light was dim in the room. This would be approximately the equivalent of shooting at ISO 10,000 or so.

Chicago had slept on the other side of my head. Here she is.

Chicago and me, in the early hours. 

My hand, before I get out of bed.

Me, still in bed. I have to wear that damn thing on my nose if I am to breathe and get any sleep at all. Looks likes its time for a haircut and beard trim again, especially since I will be heading back into the field shortly.

Jim was looking out the window.

Jim - as captured in the early morning with my iPad.

I went into the next room, which was even darker. Jobe woke up and came to greet me.

He was still tired, so he collapsed at his grandma's feet.

Soon, Jobe and I were out in the front room. Kalib slept on. Margie was coming to and would soon join us.

You did not see Pistol in the bedroom because he did not want to share the bed with Kalib, so he pouted and slept in the front room by himself.

Jobe scurries across the living room, carrying the two golf balls.

You can't see them, but this is only a second or so later, so he is still carrying the balls.

Now he is eating them.

Margie and Jobe, immediately after a diaper change.

Gramma and grandson.


Grandson and gramma.

Jobe gets down.

Jobe is ready to go. Gramma is not ready to let him go.

iPad still life: half a small cup of coffee. When Melanie and I went to India for Soundarya's wedding, Murthy gave me a set of small coffee cups. In India, they tend to keep their cups small. Drinking from a small cup helps me to not overdo it.

Plus, I like the cups.

Margie feeds Jobe some Oatmeal Squares.

iPad still life: Artificial flowers on the kitchen table, flanked by math.

But then, isn't math everywhere?

That's what my kindergarten teacher would always tell us, whenever we complained about the difficulty of the latest calculus quiz she had given us.

"Math is everywhere!" she would say. "Around and inside us - in the number of times a bird flaps its wings as it flies overhead - and how many times does your heart beat per minute... how many bites can you take out of a cookie... how many decibels in the croak of a frog...?

"It's all math, students," she would say. "Math is everywhere."

Jobe dumped the garbage on the floor, found the diaper his grandma had just taken off of him and gave it a toss. It took .9128999999999999999999 seconds for the diaper to plop onto the floor.

Sorry I can't be more precise than this. My math skills have been on the wane ever since I graduated from kindergarten and left behind the most brilliant mathematics teacher I ever had.

So ends my first experiment with iPad photography.


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Reader Comments (5)

I envy your iPad with cameras. I have an iPad, but it's a plain first-generation one. Oh well -- it's an iPad and I too wanted one for a long, long time..... Thank you for sharing your lovely grandsons with us!

July 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGrandma Nancy

great pictures...enjoy your grandsons and have a good 4th :)

July 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertwain12

I love the muted colors of the early morning. I'm very jealous of your iPad. It's on my list of things to save up for. I did however recently purchase a Kindle and am loving it! I carry it with me everywhere. I have a ridiculous commute - 3 blocks - and so had stopped carrying a book with me. But now there are no wasted moments. It is a joy.

July 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterManxMamma

your journal FROSTY makes me ...wanna say this...

you are not afraid...only this for now...
yeap,you are not afraid my friend...

keep reporting ...your family,Wasilla people and around the world ...
loves YOU

your greek friend

Sheer envy!

July 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOmegaMom

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