Photos: What resilience in America’s Heartland looks like

Floor hands/derrick hands Odie Cummins (left) and Will Demerest lay down a set of lumber cribbing to pad the rig. The workover rig will back up to this spot and use the lumber as a base to support its weight during operation on July 2, 2014 near Dickinson, N.D.
Floor hands/derrick hands Odie Cummins (left) and Will Demerest lay down a set of lumber cribbing to pad the rig. The workover rig will back up to this spot and use the lumber as a base to support its weight during operation on July 2, 2014 near Dickinson, N.D. Photo Credit: Chad Ziemendorf. 

There are pretty pictures whose color or composition catch your eye, and then there are pictures with deeper meaning. Real pictures can changes lives and the way people see the world, and that’s exactly what Intersection Journal wants to do with weekly photo essays about an often forgotten American characteristic: resilience.

The six photographers part of the relaunch of Intersection Journal, including Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Kim Komenich, are capturing the industries and daily lives of people in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming – the nation’s center and some of its least populated states.

The online photojournalism publication officially launched its Kickstarter campaign on May 2, 2016 with the goal of raising $29,000. Through The Cracks spoke with founder Chad Ziemendorf about Intersection Journal, his Kickstarter campaign, and photojournalism.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.


The crew of Roughrider Well Services guides the cables during rig-up/scope up process. Dan Smith (left) operates the rig while Lance Love (center) and Will Demerest (right) hold the wind guidelines, the cables that keep the rig stable during windy conditions. On average it takes approximately 90 minutes to “rig up” and start operations. Photo Credit: Chad Ziemendorf. 

Through The Cracks: Have you always had a passion for photography?

Ziemendorf: I have definitely always had an interest in photography. Initially, I dreamed of playing baseball: I played in college, and in 2003 was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds. I played professionally for a few years, and during that time, I was always the guy on my team with the camera. I finished [my baseball career] in 2006, and got involved in commercial real estate. It seemed like the next logical step because my family had always been involved in it, but it was not for me. So, I went back to school at San Jose State University and fell in love with photography thanks to the mentorship of Kim Komenich.

I worked throughout the Bay Area for publications such as the San Francisco Chronicle and Reuters, and freelanced for a handful of national publications. I realized I couldn’t make a living for my growing family with editorial work, so I switched gears in 2012 and focused exclusively on commercial architectural and corporate photography.

During that time, I saved up enough to move my family to North Dakota and start Intersection Journal.


The crew of Roughrider Well Service huddles around the well head and prepares it for work on July 2, 2014 near Dickinson, N.D. The two rig hands on left tend to the well head while the others prepare the slips (coupling that holds the pipe in place) for the 2 3/8 inch pipe. Photo Credit: Chad Ziemendorf. 

Through the Cracks: What brought you from urban California to the rural North Dakota town of Watford City?

Ziemendorf: From 2008-2014, there was an epic oil boom happening in North Dakota. There was a huge frenzy of oil production, and the population went up. My wife grew up in Watford City. It’s not the same town as it was before. The population rose from 1,500 to 12,000 by some estimates over the course of a few years. Many of the workers were not permanent residents, so it was very hard to gauge the population precisely.

I wanted to be in the middle of it to tell that story, and others that make North Dakota so great: the backbone of these regions is rooted in agriculture, farming, and ranching. An adventurous spirit permeates the entire culture here. There’s a thread of resilience and a refreshing lack of entitlement. That theme is what carries all of Intersection Journal.


Titus Stenberg of Watford City, N.D., latches the gate to one of his family’s many cattle pens after bringing approximately 100 head of cattle in from pasture on September 14, 2014.  Photo Credit: Chad Ziemendorf. 

I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. It feels amazing to be in the exact center of North America, everything is an equal distance away.

When I visited the [exact geographical center] personally it was very remote and inconspicuous, seemingly in the middle of nowhere– but it’s in the middle of everywhere. I couldn’t be more embedded in the United States. It’s a perfectly fitting metaphor for what we are doing.


Dan Smith (center) grimaces as he works to loosen flow-T connection while Will Demerest (right) and Odie Cummins loosen the well-head flange bolts before beginning work on a well near Dickinson, N.D. on July 2, 2014. Photo Credit: Chad Ziemendorf. 

Through the Cracks: Tell me about your title, Intersection Journal?

Ziemendorf: It’s a metaphor for so many things. Small interactions lead to stories, and the number of possible stories are infinite in such a fascinating and remarkable place. It’s about how we are all connected. There are all these seemingly unconnected people living together in the least densely populated parts of the country. By highlighting this incredible culture with pictures we will be able to showcase that connection. In spite of the geographical distance between us, we are very tightly connected.

Second, Watford City is the intersection of oil country. In order to get from one side of the Bakken oil field to the other, you had to travel through Watford City. So, the physical Intersection of all corners of the Bakken puts us at literal [crossroads].


The S&S Motors-sponsored demolition derby team enjoy some down time at the McKenzie County Fair on July 11, 2014, before entering the arena in an attempt to destroy competitors vehicles while keeping their own safe. Photo Credit: Chad Ziemendorf. 

Through the Cracks: Intersection Journal is a photojournalism series meant to capture the resilience of cultures throughout Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota. What about these regions is so distinctive?

Ziemendorf: The overall theme of each photo featured on Intersection Journal has to do with resilience. The pioneer spirit is a big part of the heritage here: Lewis and Clark passed through here, Teddy Roosevelt tributes his time in the North Dakota Badlands as “the romance of his life” and essential to building his character prior to his presidency. In many places you still see the wild and untamed nature of the Dakota Territory.

Because of that pioneering spirit, combined with the lack of entitlement, this region can be a great example for the rest of the country.

20140709_TaylorAg_216 Kent Taylor of Talylor Ag Services readies his plane prior to a late summer aerial application of fungicide north of Watford City, N.D. on July 9, 2014.  Photo Credit: Chad Ziemendorf. 

Through the Cracks: Why do you think this is an important characteristic to showcase? What can people living on the East or West Coast learn from these photo stories?

Ziemendorf: When I moved here, I was really inspired by the level of talent in North Dakota. I came from Silicon Valley, which is where the world’s most incredible technology is developed. It is an incredibly innovative region. Here in Fargo, Bismarck, and throughout these states there are equally innovative and talented people. The difference is that they do life together. There is a sense of community; they work together to cultivate ideas. In California for example, it’s very individualistic. People are either protective of their ideas or the cost of living is so high they have to work to the bone to simply survive. In North Dakota we get to do life together, not alone.

There is a time and a place to work hard, and these people are no stranger to hard work, but the strength of this region lies in the strength of the communities. I hope to share that with people on the coasts.


Al Berg keeps watch of the cattle chute while a female cow keeps watch of him prior to being vaccinated on September 11, 2014 in Watford City, N.D. Photo Credit: Chad Ziemendorf. 

Through the Cracks: You first launched this photo series in 2014 and called it “How the Other Half Lives.” It was shared more than 12,000 times. Tell us about your decision to re-launch the project and what new changes we can expect soon.

Ziemendorf: The momentum for Intersection Journal is at an all-time high, thanks to a number of grants and high-profile events. It started with me being named one of 20 OTA Builders. OTA is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower creators in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Then we were accepted into the Innovate North Dakota program which provides capital for startup businesses to use for design, marketing, legal fees and other infrastructure needs. The North Dakota Humanities Council awarded a team of passionate people in Watford City, including myself, a generous grant to bring Kim Komenich to our town to host an incredible discussion about his Pulitzer Prize-winning work, which will be co-sponsored by Intersection Journal because Kim will be shooting a story for us while he’s in town.

That’s where the Kickstarter campaign comes in, to create incredible content and lay the foundation of Intersection Journal. We couldn’t be more excited for all of the community and foundation support, but all of the funds we’ve received are stipulated for specific purposes, none of which include storytelling. Our Kickstarter campaign is the last piece of the puzzle so that we can establish Intersection Journal in a big way.

Our online publication will publish one new story a week, rotating between each of the four states. As soon as we get enough traction, we will release an annual print publication that will publish a number of unique stories that have been crafted over a series of months, as well as our favorite photos from the previous year that deserve more of a timeless presentation.

Through the Cracks: How do you and your photographers choose each story?

Ziemendorf: First and foremost the story must have a strong character-based narrative. Setting out to tell the story of a whole region is way too broad, but telling individual stories very deliberately and in a special way will eventually create a comprehensive portrait of the region. Our stories in most cases have timely relevance but also have incredible staying power because they aren’t focused on breaking news.

Intersection Journal focuses on depth rather than immediacy. We are betting that with more authenticity, we can cultivate deeper engagement with our audience.


Howdy Lawlar opens the side panels of the combine so that the evening wind can blow away the dust and debris that collected after a day of harvesting in Watford City, N.D. on September 18, 2014. “I still think of it as God’s country regardless of what’s happened in the oil industry,” Howdy commented about North Dakota. “It has definitely changed since I was in high school, but it is still a tremendous place to raise a family. Its a blessing to live here.” Photo Credit: Chad Ziemendorf. 

Through the Cracks: How is Intersection Journal changing norms in the industry to create an entirely exclusive experience?

Ziemendorf: Intersection Journal celebrates the culture of photojournalism and how we can make a sustainable living as journalists. Some people say it’s a dying industry. The reality is that we simply need to be courageous enough to try new solutions. Without risk, there is no innovation, and I’m not afraid to fail. Somebody has to step up to try something new so that together (as an industry) we can re-cultivate a new golden age of journalism. The industry might be suffering, but this leaves door wide open for innovation. That’s what we are doing – it’s a huge experiment to champion the cause of photojournalism while showcasing the incredible region of Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Our photographers spend no less than three days on a story and revisit it multiple times over the course of a week or two. That way we aren’t confined [and] we can create beautiful visual variety. We aren’t setting out to make better photos; we walk out the door every day to tell better stories. Great pictures happen as a result of trying to illuminate our subject authentically.

For more information about Intersection Journal and it’s many featured projects, visit and to donate to their Kickstarter campaign go here.


Del Lambley of Hooker, Okla., laughs as he jokes with Howdy and his son, John, on the CB radio while harvesting near Watford City, N.D. on September 18, 2014.  Del is a custom combiner and is contracted by farmers nationwide to aid with harvesting efforts. “The oil industry is definitely felt in other areas we go, but not nearly with as much concentration or velocity as in North Dakota. It’s incredible.” Photo Credit: Chad Ziemendorf. 

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Melissa Hutsell is a freelance writer with a passion for community and global journalism. Born, raised and based in Northern California, she writes for a variety of hyper-local and national publications on a diversity of topics including: business, art, culture, food and health. Along with journalism, Melissa has an insatiable appetitive to travel and learn. Melissa is an award-winning writer with B.A.s in Journalism and Globalization from Humboldt State University, and a joint Masters in Global Journalism from the Danish School of Journalism and City University London.


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