Documenting America by Film

From April 2014-May 2016, Kristen & Matt lived in national parks, truck stop parking lots and BLM land documenting the American road on film for their debut book, "Hello America: An Analog Story." While traveling, they began working with brands in the outdoor industry to bring raw visual storytelling to their products.
I wanted to know what it was like to live on the road for two years, what they learned and why they decided not to do it long term. If anything, you, like myself, will get lost in their beautiful photography of this great country.

How did you two meet?

Matt and I met the summer of 2010. I had just finished my sophomore year of college and came home to work over the break. We became quick friends, both drawn to each other for reasons we didn’t yet understand. We spent those months learning how to shoot film; Matt actually gave me my first tutorial on his father’s old camera. I remember we called it the “deadbeat summer” because there was a Neon Indian song of the same name and we ran around like young people do—barefoot, sunburned, drinking, swimming naked in the gulf and learning about one another. We stayed close friends until the summer of 2013 when I came home for a week to see my family again. We rekindled, but this time we saw each other differently and decided not to leave each other's side. He moved to Austin a few weeks later, and three months after that, we were on the road.

We’ve been within an arm’s reach from each other ever since.

Why did you decide to set out on your trip to discover the Americas? 

I was maybe 14 or 15 when I realized I wouldn’t be satisfied with myself until I traveled America by way of minimalism and documented it. (I was a fan of the Beat writers after all.) Over the next eight years, I would try to convince my friends to come live on the road with me. They lovingly, time and time again, told me that it wasn’t the right time or they had to attend to other obligations.

I mentioned my idea in seriousness to Matt in the fall of 2013. We were on the road by April 2014.

Did you know it was going to last for two years?

We did not.

What began as a four-month trip turned into a two-year stint of living on the road or seasonally in a place, never anywhere for longer than three months.

What do you do to make a living?

I was working as a freelance photographer and writer before we began traveling, so I kept that occupation. Matt is a boat captain and divemaster so he is used to working seasonally and living off savings for the remainder of the year. We also launched and successfully funded a Kickstarter for the book portion of the trip that covered gas, film purchasing and developing.

Why do you prefer analog over digital?

There are a lot of ways I could answer this, with in-depth detail on the chemistry of film, my love for all things with grit and grain and the patience you harness and the attention to detail you develop. But I think that all falls under the umbrella.

Shooting film makes you slow down.

You only have as many frames—usually 36—on an expensive roll so you have to own your eye. You have to be steady and trusting in your vision of what you want to capture. You have to take the time to look around you, without the lens first, and decide what it is you want to take with you. I am a fool for nostalgia, so the ethereal and dreamlike states of shooting film are comforting to me. I’m not great dealing with a computer. I feel right using my hands to experience a tangible medium. We do not post-production edit our film, so everything you see in our work is a reliable picture of what we saw.

I’m not saying digital isn’t beautiful and important to art; I just don’t connect with it the way I do film.

Tell us about some of the highlights from your travels.

I’m a Florida beach kid. Growing up in the south, I didn’t see anything that was further west than Texas, so when I stepped into New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and California, I kinda lost my mind. I experienced beauty that I’d only see in picture books. We met some kids highlining in Topanga Canyon, and we slept on a 60-year-old woman’s houseboat in Washington.

We ended up naked on a beach in Cape Cod, just because we could be, and also because why not?

What was one of the hardest parts of living on the road?

There is ample time for reflection when you’re living on the road. I found that I was often annoyed with myself for anxious behaviors I had about particular sleeping arrangements or because I hadn’t showered in two weeks. When you’re vulnerable in the wild, you can become deeply self aware of your quirks and unbecoming attributes. Without the distraction of television or day-to-day bullshit, I found myself looking in the mirror and facing many of my fears on the physical and metaphysical level, and having to answer those questions while trying to live in the moment and experience the ever delicious ounce of time I’d be given.

What do you miss about that lifestyle?

Every day you wake up with unabashed excitement.

You’re in foreign terrain. You’re in your early 20s and you’re far from home. When you don’t really know what you’re doing, but you know that it feels right and that you are learning more about place and culture than you ever did from a book, you begin to crave that knowledge. I miss the tolerance I had of people. When you sit in traffic for an hour every day or whatever, you get away from that understanding. It becomes less tangible, more of a ghost of a memory that you can’t really feel anymore. I miss just sticking my face in the dirt and crying—for the beauty of it all, for feeling a part of it and for feeling at all.

Fresh water baths and cooking out the bed of the truck are also little misses that come to mind.

And the sound of rain on the tent fly.

Why did you decide to end your trip? Why not still live on the road?

I don’t think we really decided to end the trip for a specific reason. We were sent to Iceland to work with a client and had left our setup back in Florida, so we found ourselves in our hometown, which I hadn’t lived in since I was 18. We were there for about a week, because we had rented out our apartment in Austin (where we were living before we got on the road). Matt had been working seasonally for the last few years—summers on boats in Florida and winters on the mountain in Colorado—so when he asked if I wanted to see winter for the first time, I said, "yes," and we made our way there for a few months and then back south and around that area for a bit after that.

We built out a platform to sleep in while on the road so we weren’t working with a campervan or a proper setup to live out of long term. And long term wasn’t ever the goal. The goal was always to document the American road on film and make a book.

We didn’t expect to begin to work with the outdoor industry creating stories and original content, but that work started coming in and we decided to take a chance on it.

Has your relationship changed at all?

A relationship changes with time no matter if you’re living with a roof over your head or under the stars. But in terms of traveling together, working together and living together, I would say that three and a half years of creating art has felt more like multiple lifetimes together. We’ve only grown stronger as individual artists and collaborators. Many people have asked us if we ever get tired of each other on the road and the answer is overwhelmingly no.

We do life on the road best; it’s regular living and creature comforts that we have a harder time with.

What activities do you do on the road?

We camp, dirt bike, hike, swim naked in oceans and hot springs, meet up with friends we’ve met via social, eat cheap but delicious local foods, read books, write, listen to music, dance, make fires, mountain bike, climb, run, sleep, scream, cry and laugh.

What parts of living on the road influence how you live now?

There are a lot. We’ve taken that minimalism mentality with us into our home, keeping only what we need, buying art from friends to support their dream like they did for us and getting rid of excess. We also spend as much time as we can camping and enjoying the outdoors.

Living in southern California allows for weekend trips into the desert or the mountains.

We recently backpacked the Eastern Sierras for a week and then came home to our jobs. It’s a delicate balance of saying, “We can still live out these ideals we established while living on the road while maintaining rent and community.”

And we continue to shoot film. We won’t ever stop doing that.

Tell us about your book. When can we expect to have it in our hands?

Our book is a 100-page analog visual of our time on the American road from 2014 to 2016. We are in the middle of talking with publishers and hope to release the hardback into your hands by fall 2017.

What's next? Any news or projects?

We’re always scheming. Last winter we spent five weeks in Southeast Asia with Eddie Bauer, so we are taking our time to plan another big trip this year. We just launched our print shop where we make custom frames and sell original prints from our travels as well as postcards.

I will be traveling to Idaho with a bunch of female photographers for a women’s road trip this summer, and Matt will be sailing around the British Virgin Islands as a captain for The Sailing Collective.

We will be in southern California probably continuing to chase the wildflowers until the season is over and spending as many nights as we can in the desert.

Follow Kristen & Matt of Hello America

Produced by Kathleen Morton.
Edited by Kate MacDougall.
All photos credit to Kristen
 Blanton and Matt Jozwiak.