Dragging Words out of my Head

Gallery – Life on Wheels: The New American Nomads
I’ve decided to apply for Center’s Review Santa Fe and Project Launch competition this year, and while looking over the requirements and suggestions, I came across their recommendations for writing a project statement. To the question,

What should the one-page statement address?

Is the answer:
The statement should address the “why” more than the “what”. For example, address why you decided to photograph the subject and what your photographs are meant to convey. You should also indicate the process and medium used. Your artist statement should also address where the project is headed and how you would use the award funds.

As I look over what I have already written for the project, I realize It’s a pretty good rundown of what the project is about, but doesn’t really contain much of the “why’s” of the project. So it seems it is time for a rewrite. I always dread doing this as writing is so difficult for me. But over time, I have come to realize how important it is toward advancing the project. My projects usually start with a vague idea and slowly evolve until something more concrete begins to take shape. I will jot ideas down as they come to me, look at them as a whole, and eventually am able to put together something more cohesive. That is the easy part.

Later on as the work progresses, I usually find what I have written becomes less than adequate. I still like much of what I have written, but trying to add to it is nearly impossible without wholesale changes. It requires me to focus my attention for long periods – not easy for an ADD dyslexic person I consider myself to be. I cannot have any distractions around me – no music, no talking, even background noise will pull me away. In the case of rewriting for the Center competitions, it requires a whole different way of thinking about the work. Here is my statement as it exists before the rewrite:

Life on Wheels: The New American Nomads is the working title of my latest project that looks at those Americans who have consciously traded traditional lifestyles of home and property for a nomadic existence of full-time life on the road in recreational vehicles. These “full-timers” roam the continent – often traveling in caravans – meeting and socializing in predetermined places while staying connected to loved ones through the use of modern technologies. The project is primarily a look at the people, but also the vehicles they travel in and places they visit are brought into view.

 As the Baby Boom generation begins to reach retirement age, this lifestyle becomes a valid alternative to porch and rocking chair. Advances in solar technologies, energy storage and modes of communication have enabled full-timers to live largely off the grid and led to rather unexpected gatherings in remote areas of the landscape.

 While most are retired, many still live and work from their RV’s – using the advantage of mobility to increase flexibility and improve prospects. Along the way we discover that many of those motorhomes and trailers we see traveling down the road are not at all simply vacationers, but an entire subculture of wanderers looking to the next adventure.

One of the stipulations for the Center statement is that it is limited to 1 double-spaced page (approx. 250 words). Well as it exists, my current statement is already over 200 words. With everything I have to include, there will be a lot I have to remove or reword somehow. The first sentence needs to be a project summary, then the statement itself.

I began by trying to think what I wanted to convey as a whole through the photographs. Including not just what the project was about, but how I felt about it – that is the people and what they were doing. As strange as it might seem, this was something I hadn’t really given a lot of conscious thought to. I was photographing toward this, I just hadn’t really been able to voice the ideas. Going through this rewrite process has been important in making me see the project more clearly and going forward, can only help as I continue.

I started writing a first draft of the rewrite. I did a very rough total statement, not paying attention to how many words I’d used – then rewrote that about three different times, changing and rearranging sentences and paragraphs until I had the basic content and structure the way I liked it. At this point, I was at about 500 words. I then went paragraph by paragraph, condensing thoughts and culling out repetitive ideas.

So now I had an opening sentence and three main paragraphs. This totaled about 250 words. I still needed to address where the project was going, talk about what I would do with the prize should I win and include a bit about the process. Well that is just not going to happen in 250 words, so I’ve abandoned that idea. It was only a suggestion after all. I have managed to keep it at 1 page, but spaced at 1.5 instead of 2, and some creative use of margins. So far this rewrite has happened over about 7 days. I would write a bit, get blocked, then walk away, come back and do some more, then walk away again – on and on. Each time I would get a fresh perspective and this helped keep me going.

I think it’s pretty strong now. I still have a few days before the deadline, so I will continue to revisit and revise this statement until near that time.

Here is the new statement as it exists now:

My project looks at those Americans who have willfully traded traditional lifestyles of home and property for a nomadic existence of full-time life on the road in recreational vehicles.

For much of any given year, I can be found traveling cross-county in my motorhome photographing the landscape. Over time, I have become aware of a certain group of fellow travelers who seem somehow different from the typical vacationer. Known as “full-timers”, they are most often retired, but some do still work from their RV’s – using the advantage of mobility to increase flexibility and improve prospects.

Full-timers are often found in out-of-the-way BLM campgrounds, stay in the same spot for extended periods and are acquainted with many other campers in a particular area. Living largely off the grid, they have embraced modern technologies such as SCYPE and WiFi to stay connected to loved ones. They use advanced solar technologies and energy storage systems to power their rigs. Using GPS devices to coordinate meeting places, they tend to gather in unexpected and remote areas of the landscape all across the country.

I began approaching them, asking into their doings and found their fierce independence and positivity toward life a compelling argument to the porch and rocking chair. Photographing them in the environment with their rigs, affords me a unique look into a lifestyle that breaks down traditional notions of home and retirement. I am curious as to how this sea change in attitude affects perceptions of familial roots.

The journey thus far has brought me to unexpected realizations of how the older generation has adapted to the Golden Years. Along the way I’ve discovered that many of the motorhomes, trailers, 5th wheels and toy haulers seen traveling down the road are not at all simply vacationers, but an entire subculture of wanderers looking to the next adventure.

 To date, I have photographed full-timers in the southwestern and northwestern United States. I hope to be able to continue the project in the east and south and look to the Project Launch competition to aid in funding these trips. The project is digitally photographed and personally printed using an archival inkjet process.

Comments on the new statement are welcome. Let me know what you think.

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