Wild & Precious

Wild & Precious brings together treasures from a series of road trips travelled over 5 years by photographer Jesse Burke and his daughter Clover. The collected documents; photographs, letters – as well as dirt, cuts and bruises along the way – draw us into a world unimaginably beautiful, and also intensely real. It’s a reminder that exploration is timeless, and infinite, as should be the wild. We were lucky enough to speak to both Jesse and Clover, and what their collective experience meant to each of them. 

Congratulations to both of you on the beautiful book.

Can you introduce yourselves?

Jesse: Hi, I’m Jesse, an artist, dad, and nature nerd. Thank you, we are very excited to get this project and its messages out into the world.

Clover: Hello, I’m Clover.

Where and when did this journey begin? Where have you travelled since?

Jesse: This journey really began the moment Clover was born. The moment I had my first child I knew that it was my responsibility to make her a loving and compassionate person. Isn’t that all we can hope for in our children? I used these journeys as an opportunity not only to bond with her but also as a means of instilling in her a deep and profound personal connection with the natural world. Our very first road trip was up through coastal Maine to Leubec, and the Eastern most point of the United States, and into the edge of Canada. In the subsequent years we traveled extensively to the Pacific Northwest, and the Western most point of the United States, the Arizona Sonoran Desert, throughout New England and New York State and all along the eastern seaboard.

Can you describe some of your thoughts, feelings and emotions leading up to the first road trip?

Jesse: As far as Wild & Precious is concerned, I didn’t know what I was doing when I embarked up on this journey for the first time. We were actually out on the road shooting for my previous work, Intertidal. Initially I thought we were going to just go and spend a week together, roaming around shooting landscape pictures. Very quickly I realized that was not the case. Clover was the priority; I just hadn’t realized it yet. It was the first road trip alone with my daughter. I was a little nervous because she was only 4 ½ and that she wouldn’t be able to keep up with me out on the trails or even in the car. I was a little scared that this might have been an epic failure from the onset. Truthfully, I had no idea what to expect, which was kind of terrifying.

It is a pure bonding experience and a rare opportunity that most people don’t get to have. It is time to talk, connect, and learn about each other and the world.

Clover: Leading up to our first road trip I don’t really remember too well, but I imagine I must’ve felt a little nervous to go in to the woods alone with daddy and scared to go on a trip without my mom. As I got older I would be happy and get excited to go with dad because it would be just us because it gave me “daddy time.”

What is life like on the road with your dad/daughter?

Jesse: Life on the road with my daughter is incredible. It is a pure bonding experience and a rare opportunity that most people don’t get to have. It is time to talk, connect, and learn about each other and the world. It is a time for us to plan a course to investigate and explore. It’s a time for us to be free spirits, roaming with no goals, except that of experiencing each other’s company and seeing things that we’ve never seen. I know that sounds a little romantic and idealistic but it’s true. We would start our day with no real plan and see where the road took us. Oftentimes the journey that we didn’t expect to take was the most magical one. Something we could never have dreamt up.

Clover: Life on the road with my dad was exciting because we never knew what we would see, and we are out in the woods and the streams for a long time. Sometimes it was cold, but still exciting. In the day we would go out, drive around, hike, and explore and at night we would sleep in cheap little motels. We listen to Johnny Cash and other playlist of fun songs and we would sing along to them together. We would stop somewhere and eat. I would usually eat sandwiches or French toast or pancakes.

How did the road trips affect how you thought of ‘home’?

Jesse: For me the biggest part of how I remembered home, or thought of home, while on the road was missing our other family members. Certainly it made me long for the others to join us on the adventures. But, I think we operate in a different way the minute we leave our house. We’re adventure seekers and we don’t think of home very often out on the road. Ultimately, we would talk to my wife and the other kids periodically throughout the trips and that would certainly make us miss their company but we were on it adventure and that was what was at the front of our minds.

Clover: The road trip affected my thoughts of home in ways such as, I missed my cats, my mom, and sleeping in my bed.

I was able to open my mind and expand my thinking about how I should create this work and work with this participant to make the project something that was ours and not just mine.

Were there moments where it felt hard or tiring? What kept you going?

Jesse: There were many moments where I felt tired and overwhelmed by what was happening. This was the first time I had ever worked with my child, or any child for that matter. Initially, I found the process incredibly frustrating, but once I was able to overcome that obstacle I was able see the project for what it really was; a collaboration. I was able to open my mind and expand my thinking about how I should create this work and work with this participant to make the project something that was ours and not just mine. The connection between us goes all the way down to the core of what we were doing, so the final outcome is a result of both of our hard work and tenacity.

Clover: Moments that were hard or tiring were moments like when daddy told me we could get out of the car to play but instead he had to take lots of pictures. Or when it was cold or raining and I was wet and had to pose or standstill for a long time. What kept me going in the hard moments was daddy promising me we can get a treat or an ice cream. Sometimes after taking a bunch of pictures we would get to swim and play together. Hiking is my favorite thing to do with my dad.

Jesse, what drives the need to give your kids access and knowledge to the wild?

Jesse: The goal of Wild & Precious is to encourage parents and children to spend time together connecting with the natural world, to experience the magic of discovering new landscapes and learning about new animals species. To encourage respect for nature and to nurture a deep understanding of environmental conservation and too illustrate every day opportunities for families to deepen relationships as a result of these simple and beautiful shared experiences, to unplug from the digital matrix, to get dirty and seek adventure. So having these experiences with my children is the key to unlocking all of that. Our adventures have nurtured a deep connection and passion between us. This then encourages a lifetime of compassion and respect.

What could you, whether or not you captured it in a photograph, never forget about the past five years?

Jesse: The past five years have been five of the most amazing years of my life. This project has allowed for an incredibly deep connection between my daughter and myself. One that I don’t think would ever have been possible otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, we spend a lot of time hiking locally and doing things together as a family, but when you spend five years with someone experiencing the things we done it is truly unforgettable. The magic of nature is so vividly clear and every memory I have from this trip. The bonding time spent together between my daughter and myself, watching her grow, mature and understand her place in the world has been a real gift. A lot has happened in this project that I could never have planned or even expected, many of those of the things that I will always remember.

What have you learned from your time in the wild?

Clover: My time in the wild has taught me so much. I have learned about nature and science. I’ve learned about the weather and how to dress. We learned about how people live and talk in different languages in different parts of the country. I’ve seen many animals: elk, moose, coyotes, foxes, birds, and others. We studied plants, trees, and flowers. I’ve learned to recognize things and to not be afraid. It taught me to try new things, be fearless courageous, and brave. It taught me to respect Mother Nature and treat it as a second home. I’m very thankful that my dad has taught me all these things and brought me on all these trips.

Jesse: Yeah, what she said.      

Interview by Emilia for AHB. Images by Jesse Burke