Hello America

Kristen and Matt spent April – August 2014 on the road in pursuit of an Analogue America.  They spent the time traveling the country in a converted Jeep Cherokee, all the while taking film photos with the crowd-funded intent to create a book.  True to the spirit of film, Kristen has not yet shared the analog photos – though the digital predecessors show that we are in for a great trip.

All photos above and below (C) 2014 Kristen Blanton and Matt Jozwiak.

Meet Kristen and learn about her analogue journey

How did your trip come to be?

I talked about this trip for nearly a decade. I was sixteen when I read and watched Into the Wild. That story bled through me and minimalist living struck a chord. I was restless for the road and struggled in my waiting. I turned eighteen, twenty-one… as the years collected I kept waiting for my partner in travel but didn’t find him. Then last October, completely unexpected, Matt came into my life, and we were on the road 5 months later. Megan, my best friend, married her match and they too decided to travel the country at the same time. It was surreal – so many people I love were ready, just perfectly ready to go and so we did. We’re all photographers so the documenting of the road was organic.

What was your vehicle of choice?

Initially we wanted to travel in a VW. We… OK no really I romanticized this idea. I wanted to roam the west, Highway 1 and the Northeast in a forest green rig. I thought it would be everything. Matt, who is incredibly realistic (he got us out of some binds with this realism, thanks Matt!), showed me a quick sweep of “VW Breakdowns” on the Internet and it became clear the off the grid locations we wanted to see weren’t going to be accessible without a durable and reliable car.

I own a jeep grand Cherokee so Matt converted into a camper. We slept on a wood platform he built and our gear lived underneath. We had moveable curtains for sleeping comfort, drawers for our food, camping supplies and film; we even had our own “closest” on each side of the car. Everything was internally packed for gas conservation (except the bikes).

Why did you set out to document an Analogue America?

I was working with bands in college as an intern for Paste Magazine. I was sent out to photograph music festivals, shows and bands but couldn’t afford a digital camera. I found an old Canon AE-1 and started my photojournalism in analogue. Then it stuck. I fell for its tangible properties. The developed product always looked like the moment my eye caught. When I would later try digital I was only able to capture a computers rendition of the moment. The accidental light leaks, the texture and grain, the psychedelics that would ooze from film weren’t present in my digital work. Film became my singular medium. It was natural, for me, to wish to document this American life in 2014 on film.  Plus, it teaches extreme patience– you can’t see what you’ve captured, or if you captured anything for that matter until months later. You have to trust yourself that you’ve properly rendered your moment. On the trip we were able to live in a reality that functioned sans instant gratification and it slowed our pace of life. We appreciated it.

What have you learned about Matt that you might not have without this trip?

Photo by Matt Jozwiak
Photo by Matt Jozwiak

Matt and I started this trip having only dated five months. We were friends four years before we dated. We knew each other on an intellectual and companion level and we got along incredibly well but we were always platonic. We couldn’t have been more platonic. Then one day, on the same day, we just saw each other different. We moved in together three weeks later and started the trip four months after that.

So I learned the things you learn as you travel with someone at the same time you learn what you learn when you start dating someone, move in with someone and love someone. At times it was overwhelming but that intensity to work through struggle gave us an unparalleled bond. We have had the unique opportunity to work through finances, stresses, ideals, desires, passions, projects and fears while on the road.  When you’re 7 inches away from your man and you have a 14-hour drive ahead of you, you learn that communication is the center. You don’t have the physical or mental space to be sassy, or by yourself, or frustrated… so you work through it, together. And together is always better.

What struck me most about Matt that I knew but didn’t know the full extent of (and I believe I learned it because of this trip), is he is a doer. He sees a need and it is met – right then, right there. When it’s raining and you’re fighting the elements to set up camp he takes it on without hesitation and you get to sit comfortably in the car – when you’re hungry and tired and he has dinner made after driving 12 hours without you asking – when he teaches you the art of fire making – when he carries you because you fell and bruised your body while hiking – I cannot emphasis how helpful and attractive that is.

Similarly, what have you learned about America that you might not have without this trip?

America, particularly the American West, is a hidden gem. It’s an oasis waiting for the youth. My conversations with young twenty-somethings before the trip were generally the same. They tell me they’ve never seen Monument Valley or Moab or heard of Salvation Mountain and I’d almost pity them. But that very thing happened to us on the road. We would leave a state and meet a new vagabond who had just spent a week hiking through a canyon in Arizona to a natural spring we’d had never heard of but were almost on top of. I learned that through all I’ve seen in my country, there is so much more. Additionally, I knew the people were good, but I didn’t realize how good. We met the kindest folks and slept on their houseboats, in their living rooms and on their porches. This trip enhanced my deep faith in people.

How did you find working together creatively?  How are your aesthetics similar and different?

Our working chemistry is parallel to our relational chemistry. Some force syncs us in work ethic and creativity. To work with the person you love could be tricky, but for us it’s natural to share our whole lives together – both the personal and creative and in doing so, I see our work enhancing. We have a soundboard that understands without explanation.

Our aesthetics are congruent in that we vibe similarly about a location but we see the area completely different. Matt works in symmetry and landscapes while I take on people in the ethereal. We both love grain. I mean we could eat grain we love it so much.

Did you have any film snafus? (I have a medium format range finder and the unfortunate tendency to leave the lens cap on…)

SO MANY. Three days before the trip started my 35mm Canon broke. We left before it even came in the mail and had to forward my Ebay purchase to Colorado. Matt shot with his father’s Minolta for years and it broke in Joshua Tree. In the Redwoods he was shooting me standing nude on an enormous fallen tree and the Polaroid we were working with broke. I couldn’t tell you how many tourists saw me naked that day.

Lomography donated an LCA along with this killer colorsplash flash. We were shooting our nights in NYC spent on rooftops and side bond fires – when we developed the three rolls they were blank. We came to learn the batteries of the camera malfunctioned and the shutter never fired. My other Polaroid jammed when we were on the East coast. I still can’t get it to work. So yes plenty, but you know, we have those moments and those times were suppose to be sacred, and that’s where they’ll live, in the folds of our memories. Perhaps we tell ourselves that to feel better about the lost images but part of me really believes it.

What was your timing lag (film developing and scanning) between where you were and where you presented yourselves from a digital context (blog, IG)?

We developed 3 times while on the road in San Francisco, Denver and NYC. We haven’t shared any of our film with our audience. We’re saving every image for the book. All of our Blog and IG posts were shot with the IPhone. Because we were funded via Kickstarter, we felt it important to keep our donors in the loop of our life on the road. We usually posted to IG the day of or a few days after an event – pending service.

What are your 5 must-have items for road travel?

LCA+ Film – Because it allows me to always be prepared

My Hat – Matt bought me a large brimmed leather hat in Colorado Springs – it went 20,000 miles around the country and has collected many stories

Lara Bars – Best nutrition when hiking, on the road, or in need of a quick energy boots and it’s made of entirely whole foods

Headlight – Because you never know when you’re going to need a light

Matt – I never thought I was cheesy… I guess this provides counter proof

Your trip lasted from April 2014 – August 2014 and from it you are creating a film photography book.  What’s next?  Do you think you’ll ever hit the road again?

We’re headed to Iceland for two weeks this November and circumventing the country in a rented car. We hope to continue to travel like this across the globe – together and simple. Before we publish the book we’d like to have experienced Alaska and Hawaii. This final question pleases us because it is not a question of if we’ll ever hit the road again, but when.