50-Year Vision Quest

“50-Year Vision Quest”: Book cover and John Chao photos of the oil train fire in 2016 and the gathering of Gorge tribal elders and community members with Bobby Kennedy Jr., against the shipment of oil.

John Chao, former Time-Life, National Geographic, GEO, Newsweek photographer, spent his time during the 2020 pandemic going through half-a-million photographs in his Mosier archive. He came up with 500 photographs and penned a memoir on his 50-year adventure with the camera.

Divided into seven chapters, Chao chronicles the plight of the human experience from Genesis, to the last chapter entitled, “Tree of Life” where 3,500 names from Standing Rock are listed as print activism for Clean Water.

The first people Chao wants to see the book are Native American families affected by the so-called North Dakota Access Pipe Line, at Standing Rock, N.D.

“The book is really at the core about a walk of faith, a dance with the divine, and the gifts of affirmation we call gratitude,” said Chao, who was profiled in Hood River News in December 2016 when he drove a large supply of firewood and propane to North Dakota to assist the protesters at the Standing Rock pipeline project that crossed native Sioux burial grounds and threatened local water supplies. “It’s not just the injustice but the fact that the corporations are breaking the law and yet the police are supporting it and protecting them,” Chao said in the article.

He has mounted a Kickstarter to raise enough funds to give 1,000 of his “50-Year Vision Quest” to children of parents who were protesting the North Dakota Access Pipe Line. “Times are tough and even harder on Native American families who could never afford a museum-quality keepsake that acknowledges their place in history. The book is going to press next month,” Chao explains. “It will be available at a considerable price in bookstores in May. This is a promo to raise funds so that 1,000 kids whose parents stood at Standing Rock can get the book for free as well as an opportunity to those who would like a copy to acquire it at a highly-discounted price."

He is close to matching his pledge goal by offering his book and works of art a considerable discount through the non-profit organization Keep Life Pure. If you like to preview his book or acquire a copy at a pre-publication discount, go towww.kickstarter.com/projects/visionquest/50-year-vision-quest.

Photography’s paradox

Chao’s website, johnchao.com, includes his quote, ”It’s not about capturing what I saw. It’s about celebrating what I didn’t see.”

Chao was asked via email to illuminate the statement.

“Each of the 500 photographs is like visual revelations that transformed me,” Chao wrote. “The book takes the reader into this journey and then ends with an epilogue that describes a shocking encounter that launched the ‘50-Year Vision Quest’. Photography trained me to observe,” he said. “It revealed the paradox between what the camera captures and what my eyes can see. It drew me to seek illumination instead of an illustration. Such is the Zen of Photography, a ‘cushion’ for discovery and a ‘space’ where the unruly can dwell. Magic is often impossible to perceive in real-time but is revealed in due-time. When I realized my camera could fill the void with such unbridled divination, it was like finding gold sparkling in a pan of mud.

“I write about this in my book, which is basically an illustration of all the pictures I never saw."