Vanajeros

Madison is the one woman in a group of four young photographers and/or videographers that make up Vanajeros, creatives traveling from Bozeman, Montana down to the tip of South America in a 1985 Westfalia.   The four do not only take photos of the people and beautiful places they see, they also give the photos back to the people they meet.  The van is equipped with a photo printer to make this possible.  The result is a tangible connection between strangers and the start of an open-ended story.

Learn about talented Madison and the first two months of their Kickstarter-backed trip by reading her interview below.

All photos above and below (C) 2014 Madison Perrins



See Strangers From Madison’s Perspective:

Tell me how your trip came to be. What inspired your group of four to head South?

Photo of Madison Perrins by Vanajeros
Photo of Madison Perrins by Vanajeros

Answering for the four of us as a group is hard. It’s proven to take the heart out of our individual voices. I can say that we were all working and pulling in incomes successfully before this trip started, and thinking about careers choices that could keep us in the film and photo field. For me, this project and trip represented my dream of movement and creativity. One way or another I was going to find a way to live in that color-outside-the-lines, mix-and-match style that I think is becoming more common all the time as Gen Y realizes the 9-5 thing can be deconstructed to work for you instead of the other way around.

The decision to go South instead of anywhere else was decided for me a long time ago by a pull I can’t explain. I studied the language and, by extension, the culture for about 6 years, and was fascinated by the differences in cultural values between there and here in the United States.

How did the Vanajeros crew meet?

The Vanajeros crew met during film and photo classes and became friends because we had film and photo in common, and because we liked hanging out with each other. I thought all these guys were pretty funny and easy to have long, interesting conversations with. Seriously, don’t get a group of photo kids started on photography, or a film kid talking about movies. Or do.

Your plan to take and give physical photos is poignant in this ephemeral digital age.  What has been the overall reaction of the individuals you are photographing?

Photo by Madison Perrins
Photo by Madison Perrins

The people who we give the photos to at first are confused, but as the intention to give them a copy of the photograph becomes clear, they start to get excited and open up. When it prompts them to tell us a story or ask questions, that’s the best. That’s what we’re going for. I especially like talking to kids, and my limited Spanish entertains them. They are always at least a little interested in these weird gringos with cameras. At the very least I am intensely curious about their lives, and that’s what gets me to put myself out there.

In the almost two months you’ve been on the road, have you taken any photos that have made you think – “This is why we’re driving”  ? 

The experience we had with Alfredo and his family made all of us speechless. Six of them, three kids and three adults, live on a beach south of Ensenada in a sparsely populated shanty community. They’re still building the road out there. We camped there in the first week of arriving in Mexico. I thought, this is it. We’re right in the mix with the people we want to talk to; we have to try it. So Aidan and I walked down the road and doubled back to Alfredo’s house because they seemed like they wanted to talk. The women had these huge friendly smiles, and Alfredo was the most forthcoming and practically waiting for us to approach and start a conversation. We sat and had coffee with him while the women were cleaning. They seemed a little more reserved but still friendly. I took portraits of the whole family and then the kids. When I look at the portraits now, they represent the experience of gulping back fear and doing what we set out to do. Their warmth definitely gave me some lasting courage. It became easier to approach people in their space and figure out how to express the aims of the project sincerely.

Your previous work appears to be influenced by the female form and its relationship to landscape.  What has inspired you on your travels?

The changing mood of the landscape inspires me to pick up the camera. The hills, the clouds, the mountains, and the trees: they can all represent something that a person feels. The intimacy of the space in the van inspires me photograph Joel, Parker, and Aidan. The mundane things, like the small businesses, signs, and interiors of buildings are also different here, so this is the first time I’ve felt moved to photograph the banal because as an outsider all the tiny differences are something I want to show and remember.

Have you felt shy at all asking to take portraits? Has it ever felt invasive?  [side note – this is something I personally struggle with]

Photo by Madison Perrins
Photo by Madison Perrins

Absolutely. I have had some practice with portraits, though they were conceptual ones where the willingness of the subject to be photographed wasn’t a factor because the whole situation was already conceived and set up. I think that helps because there’s experience in directing. The idea I wish I could communicate to the people we photograph spontaneously is that none of these photos are going to be exploitative; they’re going to be a shared experience.

What are your respective van roles? 

Aidan drives the most, takes photos, and edits photos. He speaks the best Spanish. Joel is hands down our video editing and filming guy, and picks up the slack on representing us well on our website and social media, so most of the time you can find him with the laptop. Parker is our main chef and also a photographer and photo editor, and a partner in crime in caffeine addiction. I do a lot of our writing and filming, and contribute photographs as well.

What is it like being the one woman in a group of four?

Privacy can be hard, but that’s on me because I try to change sneakily and it never works. Sorry guys. There are some thoughts and experiences that feel unique to being a woman, and not being able to share them can make me feel very solitary. But growing up it seemed like boys ALWAYS surrounded me because that’s whom most of my neighbors, playmates, and cousins were, so it feels natural.

Snap a shot of your 5 must-have items for the road.

1: A journal, specifically spiral bound & lined, which takes me back to when I first started journaling in high school.

5 must have items - shot by Madison Perrins
5 must have items – shot by Madison Perrins

2: A copy of this book, Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. This one was passed down to me and has to be held together with a hair tie.

3. A camera, of course.

4. A pair of high tops.

5. My jewelry. Some rings are from my favorite shop in Bozeman, and another my friend made. She was inspired by a bird’s nest.

Where are you now (September 10, 2014) and where will you be in one month?

Today I’m in Mexico City, and in one month I will be in Honduras!