Joe Greenspan Collage

Joe Greenspan: Defender, Photographer

“I was walking through a grassland area and there were these big bushes,” says defender Joe Greenspan. He’s recounting a recent excursion to Carlos Avery State Wildlife Area, a refuge of natural beauty about 30 miles north of the Twin Cities near Forest Lake. “I heard this huge rumble as I walked by and seven or eight deer came sprinting out because I came up on them. I thought I was going to get run over by a herd of deer.”

Carlos Avery State Wildlife Area, photo by Joe Greenspan

He laughs as he tells the story, one of several he has from recent trips around Minnesota to pursue his two biggest hobbies: fly fishing and photography. Prior to the season, he made it out to several spots near the Twin Cities: Interstate Park on the border between Wisconsin and Minnesota and the Sherburne and Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuges. He’s already got some places circled on the North Shore to check out if he gets some time off.

“I think the great outdoors is something that a lot of people overlook in today's society,” he says. “There's this obsession with technology and ignoring the world around us. I think we're a bit lost in terms of going outside and enjoying the weather. Get outside, get in the forest, get in the river and explore and be thankful for it and embrace the wonderful landscape because it's a pretty diverse country in terms of the environment.”

Greenspan would know. A native of Westfield, New Jersey, the 6’6” Greenspan attended the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where he led the Midshipmen to the school's first NCAA tournament win in 42 years in 2013. While fulfilling his naval duties, he was selected with the 26th pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft by the Colorado Rapids and split time among San Diego, Colorado and Charlotte while both serving in the military and playing soccer. In short, he’s already well-traveled at the age of 24. Photography has been a way to document those travels and also a discipline to master. He uses a Sony a6300 and some corresponding Sony glass — a 16-70mm f4 Sony Zeiss, a 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 Sony G lens and a Samyang 12mm f2.0 Sony E-mount lens.

Rocky Mountain National Park, photo by Joe Greenspan

“For me, it's similar to soccer, where the game's the best teacher,” he says. “You learn from your mistakes and you get better. Photography and fly fishing are the same for me. I'll go out and fly fish and I'll be a mess. I'll miss a fish, yank the hook out of its mouth or I'll tangle myself up. But it's rewarding because I can say, ‘You know what? I messed this up last time. Today I'm going to focus on this.’ I think the most important thing is losing that fear that it will be a waste of time and just going out and seeing what you come up with.”

Greenspan first picked up a camera because of his father. “About six or seven years ago, my mom got him a Canon DSLR and he got into it: shooting sporting events, like me playing soccer and basketball in high school. It started out with my siblings and me and the things that we did and then it grew.” Now his father goes out into the surprisingly beautiful wilds of New Jersey and takes photos of coyotes, birds of prey and the landscape. Greenspan gets his love of nature from his family as well.

“For ten years in a row, my family went up to the Adirondacks in upstate New York and we rented the same cabin for a week every year on this small lake,” he says. “We had two canoes and a kayak. Campfires every night. Doing that was a gift that my parents gave my siblings and me. They showed us: go out and do the things you love and enjoy.”

Interstate Park along St. Croix River, photo by Joe Greenspan

With a family that’s spread out — an older brother in Virginia Beach, a little brother in North Carolina, a sister in Pennsylvania and parents in New Jersey — Greenspan shares his photos on Instagram as a way to keep in touch with them. It happens all the time, this kind of dispersal of a family, especially in one that has connections to the military and professional sports. Photography does many jobs for Greenspan: it keeps him grounded as he navigates his young adulthood, keeps him connected to nature and gives him a chance to be alone. But it also gives him a way to stay connected.

“My family was only able to visit me once when I was in Colorado,” he says. “So I went on 15- to 17-mile hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park on off-days. I think it's good to get out and have some solitude, just be on your own. I think it's important to be okay being alone and enjoy time by yourself in the hectic world we have. Sharing photos was a way to say, ‘Hey guys, look what I did today.’”

Clockwise from top left: Mt. Rainier, Ogden Valley Ridge, Carlos Avery State Wildlife Area, Black Tusk. Photos by Joe Greenspan.