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Photographer crisscrosses U.S. to document environmental views of ‘real people’
Story by Charlotte Hsu; photo by David Wright
Three years ago, Alan Winslow, BA ’07, set out to see America.
With friend Morrigan McCarthy, Winslow packed cameras and digital recorders onto a pair of bicycles. Over the next 11 months, the partners—both professional photographers—zig-zagged through 30 states on an 11,000-mile ride.
Their goal: to document, through pictures and sound, the opinions of small-town Americans on the environment.
Their journey, which they called Project Tandem, culminated in a traveling gallery exhibit that they have been showing for the past two years in such cities as Rockland, Maine; Henniker, N.H.; Washington, D.C.; West Palm Beach, Fla.; and Buffalo.
The show features black-and-white portraits of the people they met—a fisherman unloading crawfish in Mamou, La., a real estate broker standing in a beachfront home in hurricane-battered Florida—along with audio of the subjects discussing their perspectives.
From Rust Belt factory towns to Gulf Coast harbors, common themes surfaced as Winslow and McCarthy recorded interviews. People felt that policymakers were failing to consider how laws, including those promoting conservation, were affecting Americans’ daily lives. The daughter of a Midwestern farmer worried that small reductions in water quotas for irrigation would keep her father from growing enough crops to make a living. In Wyoming, a cattle rancher reported that the reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park had been so successful that the predators were now killing cows on his property.
The openness of the people Winslow met, along with their very real concerns, changed his thinking on the environment and America. He realized that national problems had local impacts and needed local solutions. He also observed that many rural residents, while refusing to call themselves environmentalists, had smaller carbon footprints than green-minded city dwellers accustomed to luxuries like air travel or imported food. And most people Winslow encountered lived more simply. Some ate what they hunted.
Winslow, who graduated from UB in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in photography and environmental studies, says Project Tandem opened his eyes to how little he really knew about America.
Simple curiosity sparked the endeavor. He and McCarthy were living in New York City in 2008 when they began discussing how newspapers were reporting on the environment.
“The media were covering this issue using polls and statistics, and we decided that wasn’t giving people a voice,” he says. “So we came up with this idea of going around the country to ask real people what they thought.”
Along the way, Winslow used his academic training to ask intelligent questions about natural disasters, water pollution, sustainable forestry and other topics. His experience as a student volunteering with Earth Spirit, a nature-education program founded by a UB lecturer, gave him the confidence to talk to strangers.
His advice to us: Travel more around America. Listen to what people in other parts of the country have to say. Learn from the diversity of cultures and ideas that exists right here, at home.
Trip trajectory Maine to Florida, across the southern U.S. to San Diego, up to Seattle, then to upstate New York
Bike weight More than 100 pounds (about 80 pounds for partner Morrigan McCarthy’s bike)
Biggest mistake during the journey Riding through Tornado Alley during the storm season
Preferred way to spend the night Camping out—the pair asked permission to stay in farmers’ fields or homeowners’ backyards although they sometimes stayed in motels.
Resulting book “Project Tandem: Two Photographers, Two Bicycles, One 11,000 Mile Ride” by Morrigan McCarthy and Alan Winslow
Project Tandem website http://projecttandem.org