Under the Surface: Revealing the Unseen Side of the St. Croix

New book of photos shows the underwater world through the eyes of troubled teens, who find healing and hope in the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers.




2 minute read

Read the introduction to Under the Surface. Sponsored by Northwest Passage.

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“The water became a stage for kids’ deep connections to others, to nature, and to the best versions of themselves.”

The lives of the young men and women at Northwest Passage have been defined by pain. They come here from around the country because, for a range of reasons, they have found themselves standing on the brink, looking out into darkness, the next chapter of their story obscured by hopelessness. But what if pain isn’t the end of the story? What if pain can be transformed and stories can be rewritten? What process can ignite such transformation?

When we launched New Light Under the Surface in 2014, we at least knew the kids would have a blast splashing around with cameras and snorkeling equipment. We knew that we could create a positive experience, a safe but very fun and playful day. However, something much deeper began to happen.

Being in the water elevated the kids in ways we never anticipated. The water supported them, challenged them, and provided a new place where they could explore, play, and discover. The physical processes of manipulating cameras, managing snorkels and ns, breathing, focusing, observing, and using the buddy system combined with their efforts to trust themselves and the group and augmented the skills they were learning from Northwest Passage’s talented counselors and therapists. The water became a tangible partner in their healing process.

Immersed in the water, eyes began to light up, smiles crossed faces for the first time in ages, anxieties calmed, and often a penchant for risk was translated into skillful swift-water maneuvers. Racing minds achieved profound focus under the surface. Powerful, trusting relationships were built. The water became a stage for kids’ deep connections to others, to nature, and to the best versions of themselves. And these connections began transforming their pain. Stories were changing.

As the kids were rewriting their own stories through lenses of value and strength, they were in turn shaping the story of an underwater realm rarely before told. Few have previously brought the subsurface story of rivers and lakes into the public eye. After all, how can we understand what we can’t see? How can we value and protect what we don’t know? For fostering this new understanding, our kids were awarded the Lowell Klessig Memorial Prize for Conservation by the Wisconsin Lakes Partnership, recognized at the Blue Mind symposium in Monterey, California, and featured in Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine, to name a few celebrations of their work.

The ineffable experiences of being underwater shine through in the photographs you see in this book. We hope that this work will bring you delight, astonishment, and awe. You’re peeking in at a world fundamental to life! Above all, we hope you’ll look under the surface not just of our waters but of our youth. When you do, you’ll discover a hopeful and astounding story of the future.

Buy “Under the Surface” here »

Ben Thwaits is a photographer and program development coordinator at Northwest Passage. Dr. Toben LaFrancois is a research diver, ecologist, and adjunct professor at Northland College.


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Under the Surface: Revealing the Unseen Side of the St. Croix