Growing up in Jackson, Will Wise could not help but notice a perennial problem facing the small but affluent town of roughly 10,000.
Each summer and winter — both busy tourist seasons for the town — sees an influx of visitors descend upon Jackson. These visitors, seeking food, lodging and recreation, translate into an increased demand for employees.
Facing steep rent and limited housing options, many temporary workers take to the woods, Wise said.
“There’s no place for people to live, so a lot of people end up living out of their vehicles,” he said. “The housing costs and availability are pretty absurd there.”
Wise, an aspiring photojournalist and student at the University of Wyoming, got the chance to document this side of life in the Jackson Hole valley during the summer, thanks to a $5,000 grant from the UW Department of Communications and Journalism.
The Larsh Bristol Photojournalism Scholarship is named after a 1974 UW journalism graduate who died in 2006 and sponsors one student every year to pursue a photojournalism project during the summer.
Department Head Cindy Price Schultz said Bristol was known for telling stories with his photography, and the grant money given in his name is awarded to outstanding students who might do the same.
“(Wise) went out into the mountains and the streets around Jackson to talk to people and find them and nourish their stories and tell it from their perspective,” Schultz said. “And that’s the type of thing (Bristol) did when he was alive.”
The lack of housing in Jackson is hard to ignore, Wise said, for anyone who grew up in Jackson or liked to camp as much as he did.
“It’s pretty inescapable,” he said. “While you’re in Jackson, it becomes really obvious that it’s happening. A lot of people talk about it. It’s a pretty big theme during the summers. (But) it’s not taken seriously, I think, by a lot of people who could actually do something.”
The issue has only grown worse in recent years, Wise said. This made it the perfect project for Wise to tackle with the Bristol Photojournalism Fellowship.
“I like the journalistic aspect of photography,” Wise said. “It’s just something I’ve always been interested in. I like computers and technology a lot and I kind of think photography marries technology with art really well.”
The results of Wise’s project were exceptional, Schultz said.
“I’m astounded by the excellent photographs that he came back with,” she said. “And the story that he told with his photographs and with the writing that he did with his photographs is one that needs to be known in the state of Wyoming.”
Wise said he hopes to continue in photojournalism and has started freelancing.
“It’s difficult to begin with — it’s like getting a good enough portfolio or body of work to really attract people,” he said. “(You) end up doing a lot of jobs for not a lot of money. You take jobs where you can get them.”
Wherever Wise goes, the fellowship is a promising start to a career, Schultz said. Joe Riis, who was the first to be awarded the Bristol Photojournalism Fellowship nearly a decade ago, has since had a very successful career, she said.
“He actually currently is a photography fellow for National Geographic,” Schultz said. “He’s a world-renowned wildlife photographer who was found out by our photojournalism fellowship back in 2008.”