Life Around Us, a photo book

A backpacking trip to Seneca Creek, West Virginia on November 8, 2019 brought back a roll of black and white film, a small notebook filled with writings by new friends, and a story created between people, nature and the experiences in between.

Before we embarked on our adventure to hike the blue section of the Allegheny Mountain Trail, I used my mom’s old Pentax camera to capture portraits of each of my 8 group members. The portraits, along with pictures taken from the van as we rode from Ohio to West Virginia, exposed the first 36 frames of my Ilford film.

Once I took the exposures, I reeled the film back into the place of the first frame inside the camera as we sat on the bus still moving towards the campsite. Over the next two days while we hiked and camped the 13 mile trail, I shot 36 new exposures over top of the original portraits, creating a full roll of random in-camera double exposures.

During our hike on the final day, as we descended from the top of the mountain range we had camped the night before, I wrote a memoir of my thoughts and feelings. Once we reached the bottom, I passed the notebook to my group members for each of them to fill a page with their own thoughts.

Life Around Us holds within a look and feel into the trip itself, presenting and preserving human perspectives of life as we traveled through the life of nature around us.

The Process

The story of our backpacking trip, while each different in our own minds and perceptions, became exposed in a single roll of film and a small, handheld notebook.

Throughout the hike and upon our return to Athens, I collected trash, paper, fallen trailblazers, a map, and any pieces of material from the weekend to recycle and use for the creation of my photo book.

When we got back to campus, the trip had ended in a physical sense, but in a mental sense the trip lived on in my mind as I continued to put the book together for the next month or so. From developing the film to scanning and editing the digital files to choosing selects and going in the darkroom to test and print and test and print and test and print some more, each photograph spoke its own story.

The physical state of the book itself began to come together as I headed into Thanksgiving break. My mom and I spent a day tearing a variety of paper mediums and mixing them with water to go into a blender, then a frame, followed by a mix of air drying, hot iron pressing, and blow drying to create tens of unique pieces of homemade paper.

The book was shaped to be the same size as my personal journal that I have been writing and drawing in for the last two years, and was in my side pant pocket as we hiked in West Virginia that weekend. The hardback covers and base for the recycled collages was made from a shoe box, with the cardboard and handmade paper all hand-cut with an x-acto knife. Once I finished the sizing of the cover and paper, I hole-punched each material to weave a string we found from a balloon alongside the trail to bind everything together.

The inside cover shows the beginning half of the blue Allegheny Mountain Trail, and the inside of the back cover shows the second half of the trail, with the story of the hike in-between.

Just as the photos and writings carry their own weight of emotion and nostalgia, everything from the collaged covers and handmade paper embody the complete story of the weekend we spent on a mountain.

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