Like most people, Joe Riis dreams of doing a lot of things: of riding a motorcycle across the Americas, biking through Italy and Greece, living on a sailboat or merely settling down on his own cidery in South Dakota. But unlike some who yearn for far-off romanticized lifestyles, Riis isn’t middling his life away unfulfilled. On the contrary, he is a National Geographic contributing photographer who has spent the past eight years documenting animal migrations in the Yellowstone ecosystem. His films have toured the mountain film festival circuits, and he has a book expected out in the spring of 2017.
The short film “Joe” highlights Riis’s work in the Yellowstone ecosystem, but it also exposes a much more relatable side of him-the struggle to find balance between life and a job that has basically become his life. “Is my work worth spending more time on my work than my girlfriend?” he asks in the film. “Is my work worth essentially dedicating my life to it? And that changes from time to time. Sometimes I think that, and other times I think: You know, I should just pack it in. I should just go into town and get a job, and actually have a real relationship.”
Riis has a degree in wildlife biology, and that background colors much of his approach to photography. While his work has become important for the subjects he documents, helping to preserved the wild corridors that they need to survive, it’s clear that they are just as important to preserving who he is. “The wild animals that I photograph-they are the inspiration,” he says in his National Geographic bio. “Plain and simple, we should be honored to share this earth with them, and they need a voice in our human culture.”