12:30 pm, October 22nd 2018, Sandpoint, Idaho. Bikes, Boards, Baggage, Booze, and Bodies. The van is loaded and pulling out of port. The direction is unknown. Agenda, equally obscure. And we like it. An intentionally agendaless journey is new but not unfamiliar. Being late October, the internal compass says we aim south to capture any shred of warmth still remaining in the low, angling sun. Suzanne, co-pilot and partner of nearly a decade, settles in with our new pup Suki and van life begins again. With life as layered and busy as it is, sliding in behind the wheel of Blanca (a 1999 VW Eurovan, current odometer reading 415,567, about half of that mine) has become my antidote to busyness. Somehow just getting out of town without too many crab claws (loose ends that grab you and keep you from leaving) is a success. We drive a mere 4 hours from home and find camp. Darkness falls. Tequila falls… into empty, receptive cups. A crisp IPA is cracked. Cooking a meal is a relatively low priority on night one as we bask in the excitement of being on the road, buoyed by a full moon dancing behind an eerie cloud cover and an opportunity to light paint. Our course meanders over days through the interior of Idaho, discovering remote vacant hot springs and uncrowded backroad locales that allow for maximum freedom. We are both surprised by the impact of wildfires as we snake our way toward Stanley Idaho, skirting the south edge of the Frank Church Wilderness (still the largest wilderness in the lower 48). I stop to capture the scene but the record-keeping-moment soon transforms to a painterly one. The landscape has become a quilt of life and death, blackened Standing Lodgepole Pine mixed with green regenerating ground cover and hints of fall color, divided by a bending deep blue ribbon of water. It’s raw and captivating. As we continue to surrender to the moment and try not get too far ahead of ourselves, it’s already day 5 of our 9 day trip. What is our plan? Where are we going? Our minds drift. We look at weather reports. Sun and warmth are desirable. We head West. More specifically, we drive towards the wide open space of southeastern Oregon where the population density is 2 humans per 500 cows per 100 square miles or something like that. Who cares about stats, it’s expansive and definitely pulls us into that feeling. That feeling of remoteness. Planetary if you will. One thing I have realized in my travels with Blanca in the West is that it’s not for everyone. I like it that way. I can tell it’s not for everyone because I hardly see anyone else out in the places I choose to go. I have learned it through my own experience and taking to heart the advice of Edward Abbey when it comes to dirt roads and exploration and getting “out there.” So one may ponder and wonder, this all sounds way too leisurely to qualify as work. How are you able to hit the road and just be free for days on end? The answer is choice. As a kid born into a line of inveterate travelers, it has become a choice and not anything based on luck or social status or anything else. It’s my work. It’s my life. I continue to make the choice. There is compromise for sure. There are also perspectives and responses I have endured over the years from “oh you are so lucky” to “must be nice” to “only wealthy people travel.” And yet my hope and goal in all of it is not to boast or display nor is it to amass an Insta following or assemble any cult. It is to share and inspire. It is for my children to see how their father lives and engage them in life on the road. It is for my friends to be stoked and curious and ask where is that, how do I get there. My intent is simply not to lead by example but to live by it. See more of Woods' images here!
There’s an immediate connection forged in a Michael Hanson image, between the viewer and the subject. Whether it’s a gaucho in Patagonia, or a child with big dreams in the suburbs of California, you always feel as if you’re there, drawn into the moment as a participant rather than an outsider. Michael's versatility is on display with his award-winning work at Aurora, which spans the gamut from documentary to humorous moments caught while exploring the great outdoors in his adopted Pacific Northwest. Click here to see a curated gallery of Michael’s images Click here to see all of Michael's work at Aurora We caught up with Michael in between his travels and personal projects to ask what inspires him to tell these stories, and how he got his start. Aurora: You were a scrappy minor league baseball player in the Atlanta Braves organization and now you're a well known documentary photographer. What inspired that change? What lessons did you learn as an athlete that have helped you your photography career? Michael Hanson: A 'scrappy minor league player' is often a synonym for a 'not-so-talented but boy, do you work hard' player (which is pretty accurate for me, so good intro question). I hope I have a little more talent with the camera but maybe not. The transition was easy for me. Dayton Moore, the director of player development, told me I should think of my next career. That and every time I saw my batting average on the jumbo-tron, I knew the end was near. I like to think I worked hard for a decade or more to be able to compete on the field with some really good players and maybe the same can be said about photography. Both are pretty difficult industries to really make it. Luckily, I love both. I was obsessed with baseball while playing and now I seem to be consumed by photography. When I was in the minors I was exposed to a really interesting culture and it was a conscious decision to start shooting it. That's how I started my photography career. Au: There's a sense of connection to the subject in all of your images, which are candid, open and honest. How are you able to immerse yourself in a culture and be accepted by people, so that the perspective you show viewers is no longer one of an outsider? MH: Curiosity, I guess. It looks authentic because it is. It's more fun and fulfilling if my interaction is genuine. Some photographers might be able to get good photographs without that interaction but I like the interaction as much as I like having a good set of images. And, I know the images will be better if I can get access to the subject's lives and they don't look at me as an outsider with a camera. Au: Where do you find inspiration on a daily basis to tell your subjects’ stories? MH: It's hard to answer. I just don't want to list photographers I like and magazines I read and say it's that simple. I get inspiration from my friends, other photographers, editors, people who aren't in the art world at all. There are a handful of photographers I really like and are working on subjects or with certain styles that inspire me. Jonas Bendikson has always been a favorite of mine. Aurora's own David McLain is another. And, lately Erika Larsen is a pleasure to see. So much of the inspiration that we find comes from the people doing what they do, whether that's teaching or starting an urban farm or whatever it is they do. That's the inspiration, and we just have to figure out how to tell it simply and not let production get in the way of the story. When I'm shooting in a remote location, there's not a ton of room for inspiration. The subject is doing what they do, with or without me there, and if I set myself up correctly with good light and don't drop the camera, all I have to do is figure out how to make a clean frame that accurately describes the subject. Of course, my research has given me an idea of what to expect in that situation. Part of the inspiration comes from the fear of failure. I like being a photographer and I want to keep being one. I want to tell an accurate story so I better be inspired to put the work in. I'm inspired by people who are trying to use their images or work for good. That's a wide net but I think we all admire those individuals and they inspire us. Au: You've been able to get great access to the Amish community, a religion that, in your words, “shuns photography,” and capture some deeply personal and candid imagery. What was the inspiration behind shooting them, and what drives you to keep trying to get access? MH: At first it was simply the challenge of getting images from inside a small community. After spending a few days with them, I realized how unique their lifestyle was, and it was smack right in the middle of our country. Again, the curiosity of a unique culture might be enough to drive me to get to know them more and document something that isn't often accessible. I'll still visit them and have developed some good relationships. Au: You have a brother who is also a photographer. Do you find yourself competing with him or do you bounce ideas off each other? MH: We still wrestle daily for assignments just like we did after I beat him in Tecmo Bowl in 1989-1993. We haven't had too many clients that overlap. Occasionally, we do and are supportive of each other. We have different styles I think. I'm more documentary and he has a little more fine art in his work. We definitely bounce ideas off each other. And, we work together often on the video projects with our good friend Brett Schwager on ModocStories.com. Working together is a nice way to not compete. Au: If you weren't making pictures, what would you be doing? MH: Well, damn, I would say playing in the big leagues, but I already went down that road and it was a dead end. Maybe some sort of research biology. I tend to like science-y work. My friend is a hydrologist, and I think that'd be cool. But probably just an A-list movie star on the side to be safe, like Eric Estrada or something. Ya know, gotta pay the bills.