Life on the Dry Side

Culture, Curiosity and Character
about the Oregon East of the Cascade Mountain Range

This Month!

Joni Kabana


I hadn't seen Joni since she purchased a cabin east of the Cascades but followed her postings and realized was time for a visit and catch-up.

The journey from Prineville, across the nearly mile-high summit of the Ochoco mountain range was really, as the roadsign says, a Travel Through Time.

Crossing a cultural divide the highway accomodates nature, following the geography with another surprise and feast for the eyes at every mountainous twist and turn. Every so often the ribbon of highway takes a break from hugging a mountian and unwinds to dash across a valley floor, only to climb another formation of the craggy hills. The free-flowing John Day River seems to knit all that geography into a tapestry.

It was no surprise that I saw so many motorcycles and bicycles taking advantage of the road that wrapped the Ochocos and skirted the John Day.

"I remember when I found this property, it reminded me of Ethopia" Joni said, and I could see why the shadows, sunlight and stars drew her here. 


Ochoco Mountains

"It was on one of my early trips to this back country area that I stopped by the Spray Pioneer Museum. I was looking at  the old photographs of elders, cousins, sweethearts and siblings that made up the history of the early settlers, and that's when it hit me. On the several trips to the villages of Ethopia I realized that what was missing in their historic story were photographs. That is where the idea for Prints For Prints came from."


Joni involved her friends, students and others in donationg photographs for an auction, with all the proceeds supporting the creation of makeshift studios in rural villages.   They taught local student photographers concepts in photography,  donating the prints to those who did not have photographs of their loved ones.

Since then Joni has secured digital equipment and involved teams of photograhers to set up pop-up photography studios in villages.


When Joni's studio fell to the gentrifacation of Portland's Lower East Side, she found a new home at Revolution Hall in the old Washington-Monroe school.  "I have a smaller studio, but have a whole building access and use lots of the public spaces for my shoots."

Portland was changing, and Joni was changing. "I wanted something to remind me of Ethopia, and I was jonesing for a cabin away from the city. I was drawn back to Spray, where I found an ideal place overlooking a valley. It sat on twenty acres next to a local off-grid ranch.  My heart was set on it, but it was a long process, three offers over time, to make the dream a reality.

It was the perfect place for Joni, as it is a remote cabin buth the amenities are comfortable.    A wood stove fit right in with the reclaimed barn siding, knotty pine and wooden plank floors. The valley-facing windows overlook the fields of cattle and horses below.

Joni now lives among the crags and valleys of the John Day River Territory while maintaining a house in Portland.   It is not an end of a commercial career but a quest to bring her vision of looking through remote landsscape eyes.

In this land she wants to capture the dynamic energy of Africa in her work, and bring it home to share with us.


Joni is immersed in her view of the valley that inspires her. The neighbor's horses are always dropping by for a carrot and a scratch, and across the valley her neighbor raises goats.

"That's how the Uganda goat milk soap-making project came about" she said, "right here" pointing across at the herd of goats where her goat-raising neighbor was making soap from the milk.

Joni mixes it up wherever she goes. "I love bringing people together for a common cause" she said. "I had some soap bars with me when I went to Uganda photographing for an NGO.  The director of the NGO I was working with realized that the women in the village who looking for ways to make an income might be able to make and sell soap."

When she got back home, soon Oregon State University, University of Oregon became involved plus other individuals to help with the design, packaging and marketing assistance, and Heifer International supplied them with a herd of goats that were best  suited for milking. Joni returned to Uganda with a team from Oregon to show them how to make the soap and set up a buisness. They are just now filling their order for 1,000 bars for Portland's Vacasa Vacation Rentals in Italy.

"Sometimes I follow a path purely on instinct" Joni said. "While I traveled my new landscape I posted photographs to my Instagram page and it caught the attention of Travel Oregon.   Now I have a contract with them as a free-lancer taking photographs for their image repository.  I also have been asked to write blog entries and provide imagery as an  influencer for the John Day river territory while I am doing what I love: traveling the back roads of Eastern Oregon."

Our conversation carried us to the end of the day and we went out for dinner in Dayville, about 35 miles downriver. Everybody knows Joni and we stopped at a consignment craft shop she often frequents.  She on occasion buys something and hopes that those with her do too to help the economy in these rural area.  I found a welded horseshoe coatrack that I had a perfect place for.

The Dayville Cafe is tucked away against the mountain across from the John Day River and the food is hearty and very tasty, rivaling many places here in Portland.   Joni pulled out a pen and paper and started taking notes while we got to talking about workshops.  She hopes to offer more classes and to invite other instructors to teach at her cabin in the wilderness.

There is a new drive infusing Joni's life as she revels in the idea of bringing business to the valley she fell in love with. "I envision a place where artists can absorb the energy of 45 year old fossill beds to infuse their artistic vision". She loves the the idea of merging people from the city and small towns.

"I keep my workshops small, four to six participants where we can give technical assistance, processing and editing. People stay in the cozy motel motel in Spray or camp nearby,and we meet at my cabin before going out into wild terrain to create environmental portraits."  Joni and her small team prepare local foods and serve Oregon microbrews and wines as they all gather into the evening to view and photograph stars that can be seen from horizon to horizon.

Joni has already hosted several weekend workshops. "I can do walkabouts, teach environmental portraiture, buisness development, give private 1-1 consultations.   I also teach lighting, portraiture, and storytelling for NGOs."

I could see the wheels turning, a look I have seen over the years I have known her. While we waited for our dinner she was busy writing down names, ideas and projects, During dinner Joni kept busy making lists, mining her memory for kindred souls and others who share her curiosity and enthusiaim.  Joni seems to be the Energizer Bunny of photogrpahy.

She was already starting to plan for the Solar Eclipse next summer with an intensive three day workshop in the John Day River Territory and a critique session at the PJ Ranch

Joni will bounce around with her plans, poking and jousting with herself to see how it fits her goals and skills.

"People who come to the ranch often go through a personal transformation---people who have never been isolated in nature".


That night we stood on the deck under a million stars, listening to coyotes as they circled the fence line, the bark of the Kangal guard dogs from the ranch below reminding us they were on the watch.

It had been a great day.



I headed back to civilization, passing by waysides called Sourdough Ridge, Mule Shoe and Straw Fork.   In this country you can read the history in the names that are left behind.  

I could see that Joni was well on her way, bringing her unique energy to Eastern Oregon and excited to share that with many others.

Make sure you are on her mailing list, or maybe just watch for some smoke signals.