Mount Joseph looms beyond Wallowa Lake. The photo was taken at 11:30 p.m. on Christmas. It involves 20 35mm f1.8 30-second ISO1600 photos stitched together. (TANNER STEWART photo)
Former Enterprise photographer spans the globe to battle human trafficking
Slavery ended with President Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves in the 1860s, right? Wrong.
It’s still going strong around the world. Just ask Tanner Stewart. The former Enterprise resident’s life-changing moment occurred in 2012 when he was visiting Bulgaria and a man tried to sell him a baby for $50.
But slavery is not confined to the poorer countries of Eastern Europe. It is also active in Portland with its not so cleverly hidden sex trade, Stewart said.
He said there are an estimated 27 million slaves today. These include people in labor trafficking as well as sex trafficking. That number, he said, is growing every year.
Stewart, 27, grew up in Enterprise and moved to Seattle eight years ago. The 2005 Joseph High School graduate just completed a most amazing year after joining the effort to stop human trafficking. He spent 2013 on the Shoot the Skies 365 Book Project. He put more than 10,000 miles on his 1987 Oldsmobile and shot more than 100,000 photographs at sites around the world, from the Wallowa Mountains to Australia.
The book, which includes one photo per day for each day in 2013, grew to 400 pages. Each copy costs $17 to make, and first edition signed copies sell for $45, with all proceeds going to the A21 Campaign, which has offices in nine countries. A21 also has restoration facilities in three countries: two in Greece, one in Ukraine and one in Bulgaria.
The A21 Campaign focuses on girls who are trafficked in Eastern Europe, which is one of the most highly trafficked places in the world — 25 percent of girls trafficked are from Eastern Europe, Stewart said.
A21 tries to prevent slave sales with education and awareness, Stewart said. The organization partners with law enforcement to prosecute the traffickers, and they protect and restore girls who are rescued.
The A21 Campaign is a growing and evolving organization, he said.
“They just celebrated their sixth year with tons of accomplishments,” Stewart said.
As of March 19, through book sales, Stewart had raised $51,000 for the campaign, already surpassing his goal of $45,000. The book sales campaign will continue through April 2.
To order the book, people can go to shoottheskies.com and click on the link “buy book.”
Stewart shot the photos for his book with a Nikon D300s.
“After exploring, hiking, driving and shooting, I would spend an average of three to five hours on each image and even sometimes up to 12 hours of editing time,” Stewart said. “What took me so long in the editing process was I would ‘stitch’ multiple images into one seamless panoramic image using Photoshop. Most of the photos I posted are actually between 10 to 20 images (sometimes up to 50) digitally stitched together to create a very wide shot without distortion.”
Stewart got interested in photography as a youth because of snowboarding and seeing pictures in snowboarding magazines, he said.
“I got my first photo published in the Chieftain newspaper at 13 of a man playing a mandolin at a fair dance,” Stewart said. “I got paid $13.50.”
Stewart also shot occasional pictures for The Observer throughout high school, including shots of local rodeos and parades.
Fast forward to the future. In 2012, he was visiting Bulgaria as a volunteer for the A21 Campaign.
“When the man tried to sell me that baby, it was a life-changing moment,” he said. “I realized I had a story to tell, to use my voice for the voiceless.”
In 2013, he began his great adventure. He started down the West Coast, visiting such photo gems as Yosemite, Zion, Glen Canyon and Grand Teton national parks.
The adventure later took him to Europe for a month, with a return to Bulgaria, Greece and France and finally to Australia.
It wasn’t all play. Far from it. Stewart spent half an hour each day posting a picture to eight social networking sites from his blog to Instagram, Facebook and Flickr.
Even though his year on the road involved a lot of adventuring, from Zion to the Grand Tetons, his favorite place in all the world might still be the Wallowa Mountains and they figure prominently in the book.
“If I want to make a book, I want the photographs to be the best that I can produce,” he said. “I was lucky to grow up where I did, one of the most beautiful places on earth. And that inspired me during this year to go to extremes. I spent every dime I made on gas money, airplane flights and food.”
The year of adventuring was about a major human shortcoming, but it also renewed his faith in the goodness of mankind.
Of all the places for this to be manifest, perhaps the strongest was in Parker, Ariz., on the Colorado River
“My alternator caught on fire,” Stewart said. “I had to wait in the 100-degree desert for AAA to tow the car. A stranger paid for me to stay in a motel for three days while the car was being fixed.”
Stewart said his focus in the book was on the beautiful side of people and the world.
“There are a lot of terrible things,” he said, “but the beautiful things are worth living for. We can make a difference by taking a stand.”
Stewart’s mission is not about getting rich and famous.
“Since the beginning, it has been my vision to give it all away,” Stewart said.
So what’s next for Stewart?
“I don’t know what’s next. I’ve been so focused on this,” he said. “I’ll just keep shooting photos and trying to travel. But I’m taking a breather for a bit once the book is all done.”
What is the bigger point in all this?
“For me personally it’s just to encourage people to be generous and do something for a cause they believe in,” Stewart said. “As an artist, to know that I can make a difference with my photographs is very encouraging. I don’t want to get glory for that. I want to keep the focus on helping people who need help. If we can help those people, we can make the world a better place.”