Photo Essay: Home Is Where the Heart ... Leads It - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Photo Essay: Home Is Where the Heart ... Leads It

By Jess Chamberlain


Because the American Dream doesn’t always mean a white picket fence. These photos offer a slightly offbeat alternative.

Tiny homes — you’ve heard of them: Those cute-as-a-button, 200-square-foot, closet-sized prefabs on the covers of glossy shelter magazines, tempting us to downsize and live the eco-chic American Dream.

But what we haven’t seen a lot of is the four-wheeled alternative — the life lived by many of those who go against the grain by ditching four walls altogether.

Contrary to what most middle-class Americans think, not everyone who lives out of a car is homeless. In fact, there’s an entire population of auto dwellers out there who choose  to forgo the white picket fence for a pop-top. Even a Honda Fit.

Seattle-based photographer Andrew Waits set out to document these people in his latest documentary project: Boondock . Four years ago, when Waits’ aunt and uncle lost their son, they decided to lock up their house, buy an RV and hit the road. A decision, Waits says, they made to survive a tragedy.

…unburdened by monthly rent or mortgage payments or the perceived ‘ho-hum-ness’ of a home base.

In 2012, Waits bought a Toyota Chinook and cruised through Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona and Utah — with the intent of interviewing and photographing people who do just that. Now 31, Waits, a freelance editorial and commercial documentary photographer, captured images of more than 60 people in five states. Some parked in urban areas practicing “stealth parking” (moving around regularly to stay as inconspicuous as possible); others took up residence on National Forest land (which in many cases you can occupy for 14 days at a time).

His quiet, intimate images — and their respective stories — are shown on his website, with plans for a gallery show and a potential book forthcoming. 

“One of the most surprising things was people’s willingness to talk,” says Waits. “To really open up to a complete stranger. Once they realized I wanted to listen, it shocked me how personal people would get. No one turned me away.”

What Waits found: people living out of their cars for all sorts of reasons. Some out of necessity, of course, like Bob in Truckee, California, due to medical issues; or David , jobless in Seattle; or James and Kyndal , victims of foreclosure in Quartzsite, Arizona. But others — half of the 60 people/couples/families he met — were doing so by choice. To live unburdened by monthly rent or mortgage payments or the perceived ”ho-hum-ness” of a home base.

Like Scott , who was burned out from an “all-consuming” job as a third-grade teacher in New Jersey — and stuffed his life into his 2010 Honda Fit and took off cross-country. 

And Kristen and Adam , who own a home in Portland but instead reside in an Airstream in Slab City, California, while they help care for Salvation Mountain , the huge hillside art installation that inspired them to relocate there.

Or Charlene , who, after her husband’s passing and two knee replacements, decided to kayak throughout America and has been living out of her van for three years. (She’ll kayak her 50th state this month, on her 70th birthday.)

While the people Waits documented live very much off the grid, he was surprised by how connected they still were technologically. Turns out, every McDonald’s has free Wi-Fi. Several folks write blogs about living on the road, and sites like Cheap RV Living are rich with resourceful forums on everything from where to go to the bathroom and how to install solar panels on cars, to relationships and loneliness.

“The ingenuity of some people to build out a space that works for them was impressive,” Waits marvels. “There were so many modifications—ways to cook food, to draw energy, to go to the bathroom. It was comforting to see this simplifying of life.”

See it here:

Man standing in shorts in front of yellow and white truck/trailer

Vern — Slab City, California (2013)

Man sitting in his VW opened bus

Gordon Hempton — Fort Warden, Washington (2012)

Man and woman sitting in front of their silver trailer/RV

Kristen and Adam — Slab City, California (2012)

Family posing in front of their very large RV outdoors during the day

Yates Family — Pismo Dunes, California (2012)

Couple standing in short in front of their RV with British flag hoisted up

John and Jenny Clark — Slab City, California (2013)

Man standing in front of his white truck with trailer attachment

Letitia (“Tish”) Elliott — Quartzsite, Arizona (2013)

Man and woman standing against their van with back popped up

Genevieve and Kristoph — Morro Bay, California (2012)

Man standing in front of his white 4 door car with hatchback up

Scotty Mooiy — Quartzsite, Arizona (2013)

Man standing in front of motorcycle on grassy field

Brian Kiimsley — Shaver Lake, California (2012)

Woman standing in front of white van

Charlene Beaty — Quartzsite, Arizona (2013)


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