I met Theron Humphrey a month ago while photographing the Skijoring World Championship in Whitefish, Montana. He’d been living in Sandpoint, Idaho, working as an in-house assistant photographer for a clothing company in the area. He’d grown tired of the gig, wanting to use his talent with a camera and lights for more than just pictures of handbags and sweaters. It’s a big leap, leaving a stable job and income, but I know Theron will land on his feet. What struck me most about him is the incredible passion he brings to photography and his approach and his life. I’ve often thought the best photographers are those who can get interested in anything and anyone. Theron’s latest project (it’s ongoing…there are 9 days left) shows that he’s one such photographer. This Wild Idea is a month-long road trip from Idaho to California to Texas to New York and points in-between. Theron’s been meeting people along the way and capturing glimpses into their lives. The result is an honest portrayal of people from all walks of life.
I asked Theron a few questions about the project:
dvafoto: Why did you start the project?
Theron Humphrey: The story I always hear is when folks get done with school they struggle to keep making images. That was my story too. I was working in a commercial photo studio, I learned a lot and I can light a handbag really well, but I was a cog. I got to a point where I wanted to use photography to give back, not sell…then I watched the film 180° South and was stirred up.
What’s the goal of the project?
I want 2011 be the year that photographers execute their ideas. In 2010 I had a lot of neat concepts over beers, but I never picked up my camera. I hope that everyone slows down and listens to their neighbor, and makes some images of ‘em.
You’re learning about all these people and their lives at a time when your life is in transition. On the site you speak a bit about what the project has helped you learn about yourself, can you expand on that?
I’ve found out that I can talk to anyone and I want to talk to ‘em. Have you ever looked up at an airplane in the sky and wondered what the folks were ordering to drink and what their names are? 200 people, all with unique stories, flying to an unknown destination. I’ve learned I really want to know the answer to that question.
The project has also put success into proper perspective. The America dream is doing what you love. I’m willing to serve coffee for the rest of my life if I can make images on weekends.
Has anyone turned you down?
Someone on the road told me salespeople hear 10 No’s to every Yes’s, so if that is a measure, I’ve done a lot better. I’d say 90% of folks have talked to me in a meaningful way, and end up telling me a cool story about themselves. The transition to the camera is when they get shy. A good friend told me to embrace the awkwardness, that is my mantra.
There is one ‘No’ that will stick with me. I was driving down the Oregon coast–think Goonies–and I saw a solider sitting alone in the sand. He was being transferred from Oklahoma to Alaska. He told me his life wasn’t interesting, I couldn’t convince him otherwise, but I would have drank whiskey and listened to his stories all night.
Why just 1 month? What happens when the month is done?
The project needed some parameters. A sense of accomplishment is a wonderful thing. And the project is self-funded! The endcap will be NYC, I’m going to photograph Amy Stein. She’s a great photographer and mom to be. After that, I’ll become a cog? But I will end up watching 180° South, reading Kerouac, and flipping through Friedlander books.
What ties all of these people and stories together? Why these people and not others?
On the trip I’ve learned that everyone wants to be heard and everyone wants to be loved. That is what ties the stories together for me. This country is huge, but everyone knows they are American. Someone smarter than me could explain it, I’m not sure how that works, but I love it.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m no pioneer in using social media and photography, but I couldn’t find any photographers or projects that where using the two as an active component of a project, so folks could participate. And because of social media, the project already has soul. It’s not sitting on a hard drive waiting for the press. Anyone in America can hop on my website at their local library and I can go hear their story. That is powerful.
And after 3,000 miles, approaching 20 days on the road, what keeps me going is pretending I’m not exhausted