50 Photographers Across 50 States Capture Portraits for Merrell's One Trail Campaign

Merrell, an outdoor footwear brand, wanted a photography concept that would celebrate diversity on trails, but in a way that felt genuine and reflected reality. While outdoor brands usually look towards more of a traditional commercial photography approach, Tim Kemple had something else in mind to achieve their goals.

On September 1, 2018, 50 photographers set out on a trail in their respective states. Their collective goal was simple: to capture what they came across on the trails, specifically focusing on the diversity of landscapes and people who happened to be there. Tim Kemple of Camp 4 Collective along with producer Stevie Meier worked with Merrell to bring this concept to reality.

TK: The best way I could think of was to make it unscripted. No models. No influencers. Instead, the local communities and characters that were naturally out on the trail on that given Saturday in September. It’s not glamorous or loud and flashy, but if you stop and think about it… Wow, this was all captured in the same day. That’s how this photographer saw this particular landscape.

The concept materialized as a multi-state, multi-photographer project that would rely on images being captured from each of the 50 states on the same day. Stevie Meier was tasked with assisting with the research and recruitment of 50 different photographers in a very short amount of time.

SM: We had a little less than two weeks to research and connect with photographers in all 50 states. Luckily, I had the amazing support and industry insight of Tim Kemple and an unbelievable team of Merrell employees who all helped compile a running list of photographers we knew from every state. I was amazed that by putting our shared knowledge and experience together, we were able to discover so many talented artists. It certainly was a daunting task to work with 50+ creatives all shooting on the same day, but each photographer really stepped up to own their part of the planning process.

New Jersey, Delaware Water Gap - photo by Johanna Siring

New Mexico, Slot Canyon Trail, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument - photo by Michael Clark

With all 50 photographers confirmed and their locations assigned, September 1 came and went. Given the documentary approach, there was some fear that a few of the images might not turn out due to weather or limited subjects, but both Stevie and Tim were elated when the final photos came in.

TK: I asked each photographer to send over their 10 favorites. And it was honestly like Christmas. I was completely blown away. 

Left: Arkansas, Pinnacle Mountain State Park - photo by Sara Reeves
Right: Wyoming, Disappointment Peak, Grand Teton National Park - photo by Andy Bardon

Left: Louisiana, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve - photo by Akasha Rabut
Right: Florida, Myakka River State Park - photo by Edward Linsmier

SM: I couldn’t have staged or casted some of these shots better, even if I tried. Despite thunderstorms (Kentucky) flooded trails (Florida), or traveling 90+ miles by train, Uber and foot just to get to the trailhead (New Jersey), both the photographers and the subjects they captured really showcased that although there are different backgrounds we come from and obstacles we encounter, that there is this unifying nature of the trail.

Left: Washington, Park Butte, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest - photo by Ben Matthews
Right: Kentucky, Auxier RidgeTrail, Daniel Boone National Forest - photo by Mike Wilkinson

Tim and his team went on to make the final image selections and processed them in black and white. An interactive website was planned as a part of the launch, but Tim was passionate about finding an event or location to host a gallery event to display some of the images and really celebrate the work that had been done. An opportunity presented itself in the form of the Outdoor Retailer Show in Denver, where Merrell was going to have a large booth setup alongside 100+ other brands.

TK: These days, as photographers and filmmakers we often pour our heart and soul into a project and then immediately move onto the next without taking a moment to pause, reflect, celebrate, and thank the people that made it happen. It was great to see so many talented photographers hanging out with creative directors and designers from all these different brands.

SM: Having the opportunity to print the photography large scale and put it in front of an audience who is used to seeing more stylized and product-forward photography was incredible. As a brand, I thought it was amazing that Merrell decided to devote the entire front of their trade show booth to photography that did not include any product. They led with people over product, which felt significant and a statement of its own. 

Attending photographers hung around to chat and network while taking in the scope of work both by themselves and their peers. As one of those photographers, I can honestly say that it was invigorating personally, not just professionally, to be a part of something larger than just my own work and join in the celebration of diversity and outdoor recreation.

TK: It was important for this project to feel like a moment in time and be more journalistic in its approach. By leaving things unscripted, you are left with an honest, and truthful portrait of the outdoors through the lens of these 50 different, talented photographers all captured on the same day. 

To check out the interactive map of the U.S. and browse the different images captured by all 50 photographers, head over to the Merrell One Trail website.

Lead image from Colorado, Yankee Boy Basin, Uncompahgre National Forest - photo by David Clifford

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13 Comments

Anthony Collins's picture

Tim, it's a Troll.

Elan Govan's picture

What a fantastic idea to celebrate. Well done.

Deleted Account's picture

What a fantastic campaign! So nice to see the people I see on my hikes represented in this campaign. As Tim pointed out. This is the real America.

Kendrick Howard's picture

Great article and fun project but I am curious, were the photographers paid? I hope I didn't miss it somewhere.

Anthony Collins's picture

Very good question!

Kendrick Howard's picture

Yea I ask because if they weren't then Merrell got a big ambitious project done for free, at least the commercial photography part of the project. I'm guessing all the other vendors were paid full price though so there is that if my suspicion is correct.

Mike Wilkinson's picture

@Kendrick - yes, the photographers were definitely paid a fair rate for the shoot + usage. Thanks for reading!!

Brian Cover's picture

The correct term is Native Americans. I realize you weren't aware, but many are offended by the term you used.

Brian Cover's picture

The terms are not interchangeable. To many Native Americans, the term is as offensive to them as the n-word is to people of African heritage. If you were aware of it, then you shouldn't have used it. I know many Native Americans, the majority find the term you used offensive. Polite persons don't use terms that are offense to an ethnic group. A polite person would use the term the ethnic group doesn't find offensive. I was giving you the benefit of the doubt, but your response shows that you are not a polite person.

Brian Cover's picture

Why is it that the feeble minded always resort to profanity to cover their own inadequacies?
If you are unable to convey your thoughts without resorting to personal attacks laced with profanity, you are a sorry individual indeed.
Are those surveys by the same people that claimed Hillary was going trounce Trump in the 2016 elections?
Surveys are constantly proven to be inaccurate. But even so, if 37% are offended, then why use the term? I never said 100% are offended. Just as the n-word offends many, but not all, polite society no longer uses the term. Political correctness has nothing to do with it. It is just common courtesy.
A friend of mine who is Navajo, agrees with me 100% and she is happy that I am speaking for her and her people. Her adapted sister, who is Hopi, also prefers Native American.
Stop being hypocritical with YOUR faux politeness. Everyone can see you are a major jerk.

Joe Petolino's picture

Great project!

I have to pick a nit, though. The first series in California is mislabeled. The Half Dome photos were actually taken on the "Cable Route". "Snake Dike" is a technical climb on the opposite side of the dome.

David Wild's picture

Love it. Interesting to see how companies interpret the "realism" trend.

Linnea Lenkus's picture

What a wonderful idea!