BreakingModern – Our Wild Abandon, a travel-obsessed collaborative photography project by Jillian Mann and Kyla Tretheway, is all about the wide-open spaces. They’re a Canadian duo who decided, one day in August of 2013, to leave their home and roam the long and winding roads of the United States. Armed with cameras, a hand-painted trailer and an artistic ability to capture a wide range of Americana, Mann and Tretheway have collected a large following on social media, specifically Instagram. At this point in their venture, they’ve traveled overseas, returned home for brief spells and are gearing up for 2015.
We caught up with Our Wild Abandon to learn more about their travels and artistic process, their role with HTC’s Creatography and to see what’s next. We also featured them in our Eyewitness Photo column, which you can find here. Check out the in-depth interview below.
BMod: You two have blazed a trail over a good chunk of the U.S. How do you decide where to go next? Do you have friends you’re hoping to meet up with, a historical or visually impressive sight you want to see or do you just pick a direction and drive?
Our Wild Abandon (OWA): The freedom to not have to be anywhere was an incredible luxury in our first U.S. trip. We could move slowly, stop on a whim, take the time to meet people and I believe we shot some of our strongest work traveling that way. It’s hard to say specifically where we want to go next, since we seem to always want to be everywhere all at once. We want to finish a full U.S. tour in the trailer in the near future … something we are in the middle of planning. Iceland is big on the list, but you never know what will come up. We had the opportunity last year to go to the island of Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic), an island that we had never ever heard of. It ended up being one of the most significant travel experiences we have had and might be the most beautiful country in the world. That being said, we don’t know that for sure and who knows what else is out there for us.
BMod: What would you say is the difference in your respective approach to photography and creative framing of your images? The shots you post on Instagram and Photo Stories are incredibly diverse, and I wonder who takes what kind of images.
OWA: Jillian has more technical training and experience, so she is more careful and calculated in her work, always striving to get things right the first time and never giving up on an idea. Kyla is self-taught and a little rougher and loose when it comes to composition, often capturing the unexpected, spontaneous moments. Traveling, living and shooting together every day for well over a year now has created a shared mutual aesthetic that draws from both of our individual styles. As the scenery changes so quickly for us, we also adapt to what we are faced with — the range in images can often be attributed to the fact we are always on the move.
BMod: Likewise, how do you decide if a shot should be Instagrammed, saved later for Photo Stories or scrapped?
OWA: One of the initial challenges we faced using Instagram as an outlet … was learning to shoot with the square format in mind. That is typically the deciding factor when it comes to what goes on our feed and what we reserve for the photo narratives we post on our personal site. There are definitely images that we consider much stronger as shot, they can’t be cropped down without sacrificing the overall effect of the image. The entire process is a discussion. That’s what has been so positive working in an artistic partnership with your best friend; you’re not sitting there alone with your image. We always have each other to bounce off of when it comes to making these decisions or seeking advice.
Video: Creatography | Our Wild Abandon: Roaming Adventurers
BMod: It would be great if you could talk a bit about affording a creative life on the road. This is a dream for many young people, myself included, and I always wonder about the financial specifics of travel. Do you always sleep in your trailer? Do you ever couchsurf or rent accommodations? Did you save up a chunk of cash before embarking? Do you pool your money or have independent cashflows, and if they are independent, how do you manage that?
OWA: This is our favorite topic of discussion these days, and people are always curious how we make it work. It takes less than you think if you can commit to it. Since starting Our Wild Abandon we have merged all of our finances. Everything we earn and have goes back into this project. We are both equally committed to our dream so it isn’t even a discussion when it comes to what we do with our resources. As far as what that looks like, living on the road for extended periods of time, especially in the U.S. where we cannot currently work, you need to be extremely budget conscious. The money you leave with is all the money you have … We typically travel with our trailer, Bobby Jean, in tow which is a huge help in keeping expenses down. There are a ton of places you can park and sleep for free, national parks, Walmart parking lots, friends’ driveways, rest stops. We had made a rule … that we would never pay for a place to stay and never eat out. We have a stove and icebox in the trailer so we are able to buy groceries and cook for ourselves, saving a ton of money. When you are traveling its easy to let your expenses get away from you, a few dollars here on fast food, bottled water, etc. All these things can be avoided. We did the first six-month leg of OWA in the U.S. with money we had budgeted for what was originally supposed to be a much-shorter trip. What people don’t see in our feed, though, is our current system. We have been doing a lot of stop-and-go travel this past year. We come back to Canada to work and then leave on shorter personal trips in the U.S. (which is still our favorite landscape to photograph) or travel elsewhere for photography and travel work. We have been extremely fortunate to turn this into a full-time job, something we could have never imagined happening when we first left town. We have been working these past few months on something big. I think 2015 is going to be our biggest year yet once we get our ducks in a row.
BMod: Whenever I travel I’ve come up against some rough, soul-searching ordeals. Could you give us a couple of yours?
OWA: A lot of the personal, internal struggles we face stem from long periods of isolation punctuated by fast-paced stretches of time spent making new friends and having new experiences. These ups and down and changes of pace stretched us. You go from being incredibly distracted and caught up in the moment to days of quiet introspection. It’s not like at home in your daily life where you have a consistent level of socialization and patterned regularity. This pace was and is hard to come to grips with and in a time where we find ourselves constantly asking, “What the f*** are we doing?” you need to always be doing your best to answer to yourself.
BMod: Anything that pushed either of you to the edge of your comfort limits? How did you overcome them?
OWA: We recently had the opportunity to photograph the Angola Prison Rodeo in Louisiana. We didn’t fully know what we were getting into, only that it was something we had wanted to do for a long time and a truly unique experience. The day of the rodeo we were escorted by staff behind the scenes and met so many incredible people — reformed prisoners that were now craftsmen, prison staff, the warden Burl Caine, prisoners that participated in the rodeo events and all the others that make the Rodeo possible. The experience the day of (the rodeo) didn’t necessarily push us beyond any comfort limits, but for weeks after we struggled intensely with the images. We had met these men that had incredible, inspiring stories of reformation yet many of them will never leave Angola, never see anything beyond those walls. We also have to remember the victims — everyone we met has a victim. What do you do with the portraits of these men and their stories? Neither of us had ever taken photographs that had left us so emotionally overwhelmed and morally conflicted. As far as overcoming that, we still aren’t sure, they sit in a folder and we continue to navigate ourselves around the conflict we feel when it comes to sharing them. It’s powerful, to have images that make you feel so strongly … it’s important to create work that makes you feel something real, that makes you question everything.
BMod: What was the most physically stunning place for each of you? Did anywhere feel like home? Did/does the road feel like home? Are there some unknown places we should be visiting?
OWA: Home, to us, isn’t as strictly or easily defined as it used to be. A combination of people, places and even songs feel like home now. Home is more a sense of familiarity and comfort than an address. Geographically we would both agree that White Sands, N.M., is our favorite place. For three dollars you can get a camping permit and have the place entirely to yourself … it’s like being on the moon. We are also huge fans of the South, not necessarily any particular city but as a whole, there’s nowhere like it. If you were to ask us this same question next year I imagine we will have an entirely different answer. It often feels like where we are currently is the best place we have ever been. We’ve been lucky that way.
BMod: How long do you plan to continue Our Wild Abandon? Does it have a phase two?
OWA: At this point I think there have been several phases, telling them apart is hard because it’s not so much about the locations as it is our personal experiences and the work we produce in that mindset. Our Wild Abandon is a work in progress and there is nothing else we would rather be working on. We learned early on that making plans was the only way to ensure their failure so we stopped and that is how we continue to operate — our only plan being to keep moving and creating. For 2015, well, we can’t jinx anything but we are looking to spend a lot more time on the move. Our eyes are set on Central America and Iceland at the moment with possibly our biggest roadtrip to date on the horizon (but we will have to see what happens).
BMod: What do you love most about getting some recognition for your photos? How has social media helped connect you with the travel world, the photo world and any other kind of world?
OWA: Social media has been an integral part of this entire journey. It allows us to share our work, but also see what other people are creating in real time. Instagram has been an incredible tool for us — to meet and keep up with friends, get inspired, find out about new locations and keep tabs on all the amazing and talented friends we’ve made all over the map. We are visual people and to have a source of constant photographic inspiration from so many artists we admire at our fingertips is invaluable.
The recognition was unexpected … as photographers you want someone to appreciate the work, but we didn’t think Instagram and the blog would become as highly trafficked as they are. It’s an incredible outlet but sometimes it can be difficult to separate the role of photographer from “Instagrammer,” which is a term often used. It’s easy for the online popularity to overshadow the fact that, without the app, we are photographers, and this is still passion that we pursue regardless of the size of the audience.
For BMod, I’m Daniel Zweier.
All images courtesy of Our Wild Abandon
January 23, 2022
I love to travel. That is a solid recommendation for Dominica. File that for some future research.
January 26, 2022
I’m all about White Sands, NM, Jamie. Closer (to me), but looks like a world away