Upon embarking on my first cross-country road trip, I went to the internet in search of tips suggested by fellow photographers who have also made this iconic exploration. To my surprise, there were few contemporary articles published depicting the experience of others in relation to the photographic aspect of the trip. In my search, however, I did come across a wonderfully inspiring photographer, Amelia Fletcher, who, with the help of a crowd-funding website, trekked across the country on a sole mission to photograph its landscape and inhabitants. This type of trek, of course, is nothing new. It follows in the footsteps of world renowned photographers such as Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Gary Winogrand, and William Eggleston just to name a few (do yourself a favor and look these up!). In this first of a 2 part series, fine art photographer Amelia Fletcher was generous with her time after her trip and answered a few questions for us. Continue reading to discover what she had in her camera bag, how she approached subjects to photograph, and what her best successes and failures were.
Tips to Photograph Your Trip: Part 1
BL: What were your photographic intentions and/or goals when you first set out to cross the country by car?
AF: My photographic goals were comparable to my other hopes for the trip. I wanted to put myself out there, experience different cultures and ways of life here in the United States, and see this beautiful country we live in as best I could. My hope was that my photos would reflect all of that. Everyone and everything I photographed has some type of story that goes with it. I didn’t want my images to be that of an outsider, but of someone who immersed themselves in this traveler lifestyle and all that entails. The portraits of each person in the series are portraits of people I spent time with, often a lot of time.
BL: How did you decide what kind of gear to bring along? Did you ultimately feel like you made the right choices, was there anything you wish you had, something crucial your forgot, or something that was too cumbersome along the way?
AF: I try to pack light everywhere I go, and use natural light whenever possible, so I brought almost everything I have as far as gear goes:
I would have loved a 24mm lens for night photography, a 70-200mm lens for wildlife, and a strobe setup, but ultimately feel like I made the right choices in what I brought. I don’t think that having the extra gear would have affected my work very much. When you’re on a budget and living out of your car you have to be very selective.
I have 16GB and 32GB memory cards, and since I had my laptop with me I was able to transfer everything when they were close to filling up. Right before I left for the trip I signed up for CrashPlan, it’s an awesome app that backs up all your work online automatically. My smart phone really came in handy with GPS and places to stop. I’ve heard it makes a great camera too but haven’t tried that yet 🙂 And although it’s not tangible, please don’t go anywhere without insurance. Things happen.
BL: How did you engage with the people you met along the way? What was your approach when asking subjects to take picture of them or their properties/belongings?
AF: One night over a campfire in Lake Tahoe I was talking to another photographer about portraits. A professor had once told him that it was extremely important to ask someone before taking their photo as a sign of respect. In a way the photographer is using the subject for their own personal gain. I can see where the professor is coming from, and I know I don’t like it when someone takes my photo without asking, but my intention is that each person that lets me create an image of them gets as much out of it as I do. I never want anyone I photograph to feel they are being used. For this reason I always ask permission and make sure he or she is comfortable with the idea. In most cases it’s someone I had gotten to know, someone who knew about my project and wanted to be a part of it. My approach is always something along the lines of “Would you be willing to let me photograph you.” I was told no once, he wasn’t comfortable with being photographed and hoped I understood. I felt embarrassed for asking him and embarrassed for assuming he would say yes. This was before the conversation in Lake Tahoe. After that I approach people much more humbly.
BL: What would be your recommendation for someone taking this trip in a short amount of time vs. a more leisurely excursion? Are there any situations that simply must be done, seen, or photographed?
AF: Plan ahead, no matter how long your trip, and pack light. That is the best advice I can give! It’s always good to have an itinerary even if it’s really loose. Delays and mishaps will come up, and that’s ok, but it’s good to know what you want to see and do beforehand. Ask the internet, ask friends, ask locals once you arrive. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you traveled all that way and missed the best parts because you didn’t know about them. (Example- I didn’t do enough research on Arizona and drove right by “The Wave.” According to Google it’s amazing.) Also, you must be willing to put yourself outside your comfort zone and go with the flow.
BL: What most inspired you while on the road? What most surprised you after all was said and done?
AF: What most inspired me and most surprised me is the kindness of people, especially complete strangers. I was at a laundromat in the middle of nowhere, Texas and a lady struck up a conversation with me then invited me to her family’s home for dinner. I stayed with friends of friends I’d never met, organic farm owners that taught me about what they do, and I raised double the amount of my goal for the trip on a crowd-funding website. People are my favorite subject to photograph because we are all so uniquely complex. It’s inspiring to me to see the good in us.
BL: Is there anything you would do differently if given the opportunity to take a similar trip?
AF: Yes. I would go see The Wave. Ha! But also I would try and spend a little more time in a little less places instead of trying to fit every single thing into a short amount of time. I would prioritize a bit more.
BL: What was your method of sharing the work you were creating on the road? Were you sharing as you shot or culling your photos in larger batches? Did they ever make it into print?
AF: I share all of my work through social media and photo sharing sites (links below). I culled everything down and edited as I had time, so I didn’t finish up until just recently. A few have made it into print as perks for the people who so kindly donated to my campaign for the trip. I’d love to publish a book but haven’t gotten to that point yet.
BL: Has the work your created during your trip had any affect on the work you are producing now?
AF: Yes. The world looks a little different than it did before, I grew up a bit over the last year through taking this trip and that in turn transformed the way I work, in small and big ways. I’m excited to see what happens in 2015. Although I probably knew it all along, this adventure gave me the confidence and motivation to make photography my full-time career and dive right into making that so. I’m booking weddings, working on agency representation, contacting editorial gigs, and taking business seminars. It’s all new to me but I figure if I can make it cross-country on my own I can figure out how to make a living! Aesthetically my work hasn’t changed much aside from a little less editing.
BL: Where can we find your work?
Check out Part 2 of this series – Traveling Cross Country? Tips to Photograph Your Trip: Part 2
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