Imagine standing on the open prairie at night, lightning bolts cracking a couple miles away across the plains, the northern lights wheeling around the sky above you. It’s just you, a tripod and a camera. This was one of Morgan Cardiff’s defining experiences during his stint with the Landmark program on the American Prairie Reserve.
A Masters student in Natural Resource Management at the Technical University of Munich in Germany, Morgan, 31, is originally from Newcastle, NSW, Australia. During his time this fall on the Landmark crew, he produced a film about his crew and the program. Watch the film here:
Q&A with Morgan Cardiff
We caught Morgan between studying for exams and planning another film project—this one following an endurance runner across Russia—for a quick interview about his film and his experiences on the northern plains.
Morgan Cardiff: I remember seeing the MoveShake film about Gregg and ASC, and thinking, ‘what a fantastic idea’. Late in 2013 I saw through social media that ASC was looking for crew to spend time on the American Prairie Reserve, and I jumped at the chance to apply.
ASC: How long did you live on the Reserve?
MC: Just under eight weeks in total. On the first day it was about 100 degrees, and I thought spending that long in a tent would be tough. By the end, the tough part was actually leaving.
ASC: What was one of the most exciting things you experienced?
MC: If I had to choose, [I’d say] the scale and extremes of the landscape, for one. We had incredibly hot days, mornings below freezing, amazing lightning storms, strong winds, days of constant rain and then periods of absolute stillness. The second was interacting with the wildlife, and experiencing that with the rest of the crew. Waking every morning to coyotes howling, or with bison rubbing themselves on your tent platform.
I also had close encounters with rattlesnakes, which shook me up. I kept getting asked, “You’re from Australia, isn’t everything poisonous?” But we don’t have rattlesnakes!
MC: The Great Plains is a visually stunning environment. While at first it might not stand out against places like Glacier or Yellowstone, it’s the kind of place that gives itself to you in small increments. Just enough to keep you on your toes, and then all of a sudden it will do something that blows your mind. I wanted to be able to communicate that experience visually.
If it inspires someone to head out onto the prairie or follow their own path into this great big beautiful world, use their skills for good, I’ll be stoked. Projects such as Landmark let you not only see a place, but become a part of it. Even if it’s only for a short time, you develop a deeper level of understanding.