Maggie Hamilton grew up in northern Wisconsin, and most years she still makes it back home to hunt opening weekend of deer season with her 93-year-old grandfather. That passion for wild places, and the connections they nourish, informs her work behind the lens. Hamilton recently graduated with a Master of Arts in photography from the University of Montana—she was a photography intern for Missoula-based Backcountry Hunters & Anglers for a semester—and for her graduate project she took portraits of public-land users from California to Florida.
Instead of focusing solely on hunters and anglers, Hamilton chose a wide variety of public lands users—there are surfers and sledders in the mix, Korean-Americans, Hispanic outdoorsmen and, of course, her beloved grandfather. “For this campaign,” she wrote, “I wanted to show the broader truth, unlike a lot of media that show just white men using our lands. I wanted to show that everyone uses public lands. The sitters are people from every walk of life.” For the portrait session Hamilton simply asked the model to bring whatever gear that they would need to use public land in their preferred way, whether it was a wetsuit and a surfboard or a crossbow and camo. She devised the hashtag #IOwnIt to underscore their claim their ownership, and the implicit understanding of the responsibilities that come with being a public lands owner. (You can see more of Hamilton’s photography on the Instagram account, @publiclanduser.)
That’s the broader, deeper truth found in Hamilton’s portraits. Take a look, and own that sense of responsibility yourself.
—T. Edward Nickens
“I have a gypsy soul and exploring new areas is an important part of my existence. Public lands give me the opportunity to spend my days in the field hunting and gathering, and knowing that there is always a view up ahead that I haven’t seen yet. These lands fulfill my needs to explore new wild places.”
“My family had a ranch growing up and it’s no longer in my family. That’s land I will never have access to. Upholding these public lands is important, because once we lose them we won’t ever get them back.”
“In my eyes, it’s not so much that it’s public land, rather it’s land and at our core we are hardwired to be connected and in harmony with nature. For the majority of citizen’s public land is the absolute and only home for our ancestral and intuitive calling. A sanctuary of sorts to reset, regenerate, and feel wildly free.”
“Public lands have shaped my conservation ethic, solidified my best relationships, and challenged me further than I would have ever thought. What’s even better? Every American has the same opportunities I do. We all own 640 million acres of public lands and that land doesn’t care who your parents are, or how much money you made last year. We all live like kings and queens!”
“I have been riding on public land since I was a young child, whether it’s exploring the California Sierras or peeking between mule ears through the quiet forests of the Montana backcountry. My heart has always belonged in the mountains and I go there to commune with a deeper part of myself. The quiet and thoughtful part of me that mends hurts and cultivates compassion. I go there to feel alive and complete.”
“It’s crucial that public lands stay open to hunters for so many reasons. If there were zero or limited public access or areas to hunt and fish, many people wouldn’t bother purchasing licenses, tags, and stamps, which help fund state and federal wildlife management. Not only is hunting beneficial to keeping herd populations and predator numbers balanced, but I truly believe people who spend time hunting, fishing, hiking, and recreating on public lands are more likely to have a deeper desire to take care of the environment.”
“Public lands have always been important to me. After returning from service in World War II, I shot my biggest whitetail, at the age of 21, with my dad and brother on public land in Northern Wisconsin. Since then, I have used public lands my whole life. I have seen public lands and access decrease in my part of Wisconsin—specifically access to lakes and water ways. That’s why we need to protect public lands and help create access for everyone.”
“Public lands are out best bet for experiencing nature on its own terms. It is our responsibility to be stewards to them and to keep them public.”
“I never realized the importance of public lands until I got into college and had an opportunity to use them. Since then I have been using them almost every day—from hiking, fishing, hunting, or trapping. I think public lands are extremely important because everyone owns them and deserves to get a chance in their life to escape the rush of everyday life and escape to our nation’s public lands, get lost in the wilderness, the beauty, and awe they inspire.”
“Public lands are so special because they provide everyone with an individual experience. They provide what you need in that moment, whether its peace or food. It’s our responsibility to make sure we provide for them. The land is ever-giving, and we need to step up and be the protectors the land needs.”
“I love public lands because it gives people that don’t have access to private land the opportunity to hunt, fish, hike, etc.”
“Our local public lands are amazing tools that allow everyone to experience great hunts or outdoor trips. No one needs to lease or pay to access these places, they’re open to all regardless of who you are.”