We’re diving deeper into the national parks with a spotlight on the people who connect with them internally whether that’s through a career, a lifestyle, a passion, or simply being a local. 

Jakob Lilja-Ruiz is a Utah based film photographer. He focuses on moments in time that deeper connect our relation to the world around us whether that’s through people, landscape, sunsets, you name it. He works with a multitude of film format cameras and his Instagram delivers all that is listed and more. From road trips, to friendships, and community, we’ve decided to create a through-line between his work and ours. Take some time and enjoy the photo story of his most recent road trip with Parks Project below. You’ll find spotlights on Arches, Canyonlands, and some special backcountry gems. Make sure to check out his Instagram @portra_papi to follow along with the rest of his film journey. 


Q: How did you get your start in photography? And why film? Seems like a pretty simple question but my thought is that there’s something deeper there with reason, is it an appreciation for time?  Color? Creativity?

A: Photography has changed the way I see everything from the less obvious beauty of simple moments to the epic landscapes across the US. 
Growing up in difficult circumstances led to me yearning for an escape of some kind - naturally I gravitated toward the dirt bag life of the road - like the adventurers I’d idolized as a kid. Sooner than I realized my life became photography and my interest in the outdoors was the story I wanted to tell. Everyday was another opportunity to add to this narrative. 

Film slowed me down and really let me live in the moment while I saw my dslr as a clinical tool. The focus on feelings and less on sharpness reshaped how I see images. At the time, I was working a job that was killing my motivation. I wanted to pack up, quit my job, and live on the road. From there out I’ve fully committed everything, sold all my digital cameras, and put everything into my art. Now I’ve sold over 100 NFTs and become featured in Time Magazine Galleries and Paris Fashion Week.


Q:  How have the Utah parks played a role in your study of landscape? And how much time is put into analyzing a space before you know to begin shooting?

A: When I decided to move to Utah to pursue photography, I was looking for a change of pace from my busy city life. I had always been drawn to the stark beauty of the desert and the unique opportunities it provided for photography, so I knew that Utah was the perfect destination for me.

After packing up my belongings and saying goodbye to my old life, I headed west to the small town of Moab, nestled in the heart of Utah's red rock country. I was immediately struck by the otherworldly beauty of the landscape, with its towering sandstone formations, deep canyons, and winding rivers.

As I settled into my new home, I began exploring the surrounding desert, camera in hand. I hiked through slot canyons and up steep cliffs, capturing images of the stunning vistas that stretched out before me. I spent long hours waiting for the perfect light, watching as the sun cast its golden glow across the landscape and transformed the colors of the rock.



Q: What are your tips for travelers in leaving the parks better than we found them?

A: Our impact in the outdoors truly makes a difference. Packing out trash on trails is my favorite way to make a difference while challenging friends to see who can gather the biggest trail bag. This gamifies a practice I’ve learned from my parents when passing through places and I challenge everyone to take part.

We’re diving deeper into the national parks with a spotlight on the people who connect with them internally whether that’s through a career, a lifestyle, a passion, or simply being a local. 

Explore more from: People In The Parks

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