I was contacted 8 months ago by a dude in Minnesota who was in the hospital due to a bad snowboarding injury. He had the incredible idea to take six months and drive down to South American in a VW Vanagon taking pictures of families along the road and printing out the photos for them on the spot. Aiden was inspired by the organization, Help-Portrait, that was founded by the amazing Jeremy Cowart with a mission to unite photographers around the world to give back and inspire their communities. I talked with Aiden about his adventure and of course decided that Kammok had to be a part of the journey in some form. Here is a recent interview with Aidan Lynn-Klimenko of Vanajeros.
Where did the Vanajeros idea come from? The Vanajeros idea started simply enough. Each of us (Joel, Parker, Madison, and I) wanted to get outside of our comfort zones and travel. Given each of our backgrounds as photographers and filmmakers, there was naturally going to be a lot of documenting. We realized taking our work back to the United States and just showing it to friends or putting it on our websites would deny us a lot of opportunities to reach out and experience the world from a different point of view. So our project is an experiment in making connections through giving portraits instead of just taking them.
What is your overall vision for the trip? The overall vision for the trip is to set ourselves up with resources that will let us give away as many portraits as we can. Our dream is to reach families for whom a family portrait is not a common resource.
The van allows us to be ready and able to adapt to unexpected adventures. Our web series is something we’re all looking forward to collaborating on, because that’s how we’re going to be showing our followers all the things we didn’t (and could never) plan for.
What inspires you? Are there specific people, places or ideas that drive you and your team? It’s fun to see our subjects enjoying being photographed, and it’s fun to see the more hesitant subjects’ change in attitude go from uncertain to welcoming after we are able to share with them. We’ve been inspired by the craziness of our idea to quit our jobs and pack four of us into a van for six months pretty much every hour we’ve worked on the project.
If there was one major goal for the journey, what would that be? If there were one major goal, it would be for the work we do together on the project to translate into an experience where we get an authentic impression of another culture while being able to give at the same time.
If you were to have one dream in your life happen, what would it be? This project has been a dream of mine for awhile, so my dream is coming together as we speak. My other dream is that our van doesn’t break down after I install our new engine.
Top 5 books that you have read in the past year?
1. Infinite Jest (which kind of counts as 5 books, phew).
2. The only other reading I’ve had time for is VW Vanagon repair manuals.
Here is a little more detail about the Vanajeros adventure and a way that you can support their story via our friends at Kickstarter:
We are Vanajeros, four young professional photographers and filmmakers, driving our 1985 VW Vanagon Westfalia through Mexico, Central and South America, capturing images of people and places that usually elude tourists and travelers.
Millions of tourists travel the world every day taking photos. As we travel, we would like to upend this dynamic by giving the pictures back to the people we photograph, as we create lasting images and stories to share with our followers.
Our van will be outfitted as a mobile workspace to make and print portraits. We’ve had a brief chance to see the effect of giving away our portraits--in exchange we were quickly trusted with stories of others’ lives, opening the doors for deeper connection and a more genuine exchange.
The authentic travel experience we crave is elusive, and the idea of just taking photographs on this journey seemed to lack the scope we wanted. By giving printed portraits to the people we photograph, we’re hoping to break down the barriers that usually exist between strangers.
Our fundraising campaign is happening right now on Kickstarter. Visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/vanajeros/vanajeros to support us with a donation before the campaign ends on Sunday, June 1st!
You can follow the trip visually here:
Are you doing something amazing and inspiring this year? How are you giving back to your communities? If you have a great story for us please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org