Charlotte Bodak is used to the harsh climates and hardships of the American north.
Growing up in Grand Marais, one of the most northern corners of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, didn’t save her from culture shock when the Central Michigan University senior took her photography to Denali, Alaska to a cabin built in the 1930s.
Without running water, or even the convenience of a nearby grocery store, Bodak set out to expand her skills as a photographer and videographer while shooting for an internship at the Denali National Park.
A 12-hour flight brought her to Fairbanks, Alaska, followed by a three-hour drive to the park.
“I’ve always been kind of adventurous, growing up the UP,” Bodak said. “But, it was still kind of shocking. Some of the survival techniques I learned were just common sense to the people up there. We did have Wi-Fi. It wasn’t very fast, but it was there.”
Bodak was in Denali for a three-month internship through the U.S. National Park Service. She said she was encouraged to apply following the successes of other CMU students in the rigorous program.
“I knew people who had gone on the trip in the past,” Bodak said. “They’ve made good strides in the industry.”
During her time in the Last Frontier, Bodak shot photo and video to document archeological projects and sustainability efforts in the wilderness. She was even flown to a Native American reservation to document the construction of a ceremonial fish wheel.
Along the way, Bodak had no choice but to master trapping and gathering food, while keeping herself warm and safe during the seven-mile treks into the woods.
“It was intense out there,” Bodak said. “There were a lot of things I learned that I didn’t expect to. I learned a lot from just hanging out with the people.That was my favorite part, meeting all the people. Just learning the culture of the town, along with native culture, was great.”
The internship, which ran from May 20 to Aug. 18, was organized by CMU photojournalism instructor Kent Miller, who shot for the National Park Service before teaching.
Miller said Bodak was the ideal student for the trip, not only talented behind the lens, but the right kind of person to brave the unknown.
“She’s got talent, but also a very warm personality,” Miller said. “She listens to directions very well. (When hiring), people want talent, but they also want good people around them. She’s likable and enthusiastic, and that combined with her talent made her a great fit for Denali. She’s very tough.”
Miller said he has three agreements for internships through the park service. Along with the job in Denali, Miller was able to secure positions for his students at the Kenai Fjords National Park in Seward, Alaska, and at Canyonlands National Park in Moab, Utah.
Bodak was the fifth student enrolled in the Denali program since 2009, Miller said. He said the work students do goes a long way in preserving the natural resources and the beauty of the region.
“In a sense, they’re environmental photojournalists,” Miller said. “Her position there went a long way to meet the goal of nurturing the protection of parks. (The park service) lacks videographers and photographers.”
The agreement with the National Park Service puts each student’s work into the public domain as a condition of the contract, Miller said. He said photos are posted online and in newspapers and magazines.
Video work is used for the park service’s website for promotional and educational purposes.
“With newspapers on the decline, I’m looking for internships anywhere that students can showcase their work,” Miller said. “It’s just a great experience.”
Katie Thoresen, a May CMU graduate from Wisconsin, took an internship at the Kenai Fjords National Park this summer, as well, extending her position into October.
Thoresen said the main purpose of her trip was to assist in research. She said the kind of wildlife and scenarios she was able to shoot simply do not exist in Mount Pleasant.
“To be able to go out there and experience that kind of photography was a great opportunity,” Thoresen said. “(CMU) is phenomenal, but our wilderness is much slimmer. It’s important to take the opportunity to find out if you like something or not.”
Bodak returned to Mount Pleasant with some regret. Missing her boyfriend during her stay, she said she wished she had taken more time to enjoy the locale.
“While I was up there, I was really anxious to get home,” Bodak said. “Now being back, you really begin to miss waking up under a mountain. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you can meet really great people. Good stories come your way if you put yourself out there.”