Behind the Lens - Columbia Land Trust
A student frames up a shot on the beach at Cranes' Landing. Photo courtesy of Caldera Arts
Cranes’ Landing shares stories of migration with Caldera Arts students

Imagine natureand conservationallowing people of all ages to redefine art as they see it and know it, to create their own definitions, their own visions. Art can be subjective, after all, right? Columbia Land Trust’s engagement program manager Rahul Devaskar saw art in bird migration at Cranes Landingour refuge for sandhill cranes in Vancouver, Washington, and an idea was born.  

This past April, The Migration Series project emerged from the intersection of art and the environment. “A lot of people see art as one thing and the environment as the other,” said Devaskar, “but to me they are woven together seamlessly.” A few months prior, Devaskar had met Bryan Ortega, a high school mentor at Caldera Artsa Portland-based nonprofit providing art programs for youth with limited opportunities while also creating a space to nurture working artists. Together, they developed a naturebased learning experience that illustrated the blend of art and nature to a group of high school students and gave them a chance to document it. 

The group met over the course of three Saturdays as the students got comfortable behind the lens of a cameraPhotographer Jermaine Ulinwa had been brought on board as the instructor, a perfect fit for the project. “Caldera is being really intentional about hiring artists of color to work with our students,” said Ortega. “We want someone that can relate to the students on their level and knows where they’re coming from.”  

The partnership with Caldera was a creative one, with Ortega having an arts and anthropology background from Cuernavaca, Mexicoand Ulinwa, an artist, portrait photographer, and software engineer from Miami, Florida.  

Out at Cranes Landing, the group experienced a handful of wow moments, including a sunset and visits from an osprey, bald eagle, and of course cranes. Seeing these birds was a first for many in the group, which Ulinwa described as “magic” and “pure joy.” Ortega said, “That was a profound moment for the students. Moments like that bring them closer together, and it might be the only thing they remember from that day, but they’ll talk about it for a long time to come.” 

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Learning about crane migration, the purpose of the land, and the conservation behind it was new knowledge for most—but the beauty of this project was Devaskar, Ortega, and Ulinwa planting these seeds for the students while also giving them a firsttime experience as nature photographers and artists.  

 “Art is apparent wherever you’re walking or working. You’re exposed to art on a daily basis, whether you realize it or not,” said Ulinwa. “Subconsciously I think everyone is an artist. The beauty of nature is natural design, and there’s art in that.” 

As we wrapped up our conversation, Devaskar left us with an interesting and hilarious question: “So, do you see the bald eagles, ospreys, and cranes as artists?” Ulinwa acknowledged the deep thought with a smile and a laugh. Deconstructing formal concepts of art and reshaping them into what fits the minds palette and imagination is a beautiful, childlike place to be.