Going Home

As the end of the year approaches and the holidays finally roll around, many people are going home to visit their loved ones. If they don’t already live near their family, people will be traveling all over the country. Last year, when I began this project, I wrote a lot about home around the holidays. I wrote some pretty dreary posts, ultimately saying that I didn’t plan on going home for the next four years.

There was a lot of emotional angst with the mentality of I wanted either all of it or none of it. I wanted to go home and stay home or wait until I could stay. It was a rough time. I did end up going home for a couple weeks in March but, for the most part, I stayed out of Minnesota.

As that time of the year comes back, I guess I wanted to bring it up again. I’ve been in Charleston for the last 240 days, or 8 months. I really haven’t left the city since I’ve arrived and some of that angst is coming back.

I won’t finish my contract until May 2017, which is quite a ways away. It’s a long time to stay in South Carolina. However, I still feel the same way as before. I can’t imagine going home just to come back down here. Leave is valuable and takes a long time to replace.

Eighteen years of my life were spent in Minnesota, I want to use my leave going to visit somewhere new. Maybe go to Portland or Boston. In the last year and a half, I’ve been home for 14 days. Yet, I can’t bring myself to use my leave just to go back to someplace I’ve already been. I don’t know if this makes sense to anyone but I thought it was worth bringing up.

Has anyone else experienced this? I left home a year ago and it seems like everyone here is pushing me to visit. Especially this time of the year. Yet, I don’t know where to go or why exactly I don’t want to go home. It’s just I don’t. Do you have any advice?

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Connections through Dreams

Before starting this, realize that this is all dream talk. It’s more of a digestion of thoughts than a concrete post. I wanted to explain how I make connections in my head but the mind is a difficult thing to explain. We each think different and therefore this may be hard to read. It’s basically a 1,000 word digestions of thoughts!

This post was also written a few months ago. I’ve been taking time to look back through drafts and to start posting old content. There’s a lot of things that I’ve chosen not to share and I suppose now is a good time to share them. As this 365 draws near to an end, I’ve realized that sometimes the purpose of content isn’t to be perfect – it’s just to share or express. Emily Haines said in an interview, “The point is to express a feeling. And there are a thousand witty things that you can say a thousand witty ways, but the idea is not to be impressive, but to be emotive.”

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For the last week I’ve been having weird dreams. Not that it’s uncommon for me to walk on walls or remove gravity completely while I’m sleeping but there’s been something more. The transitions between my dreams have become apparent and I’ve started to realize how my mind connects ideas.

It started around three or four years ago when I first started traveling alone to Spain and Denmark. Before then, most people I knew lived within 100 miles of my house. Once I began crossing the ocean, my friends were on the other side of the planet. Therefore, when I had a dream that I biked to Spain, then over to Denmark, in a matter of hours, I knew it was fake.

Over the years I’ve become lazy in my dreams. Instead of biking considerable distances while I sleep, everything exists on one island. One location that leads to all of the others. It’s interesting that these locations blend together seamlessly and it’s difficult to notice anything unusual while I’m dreaming.

Lately, this island has become defined and I remember it in my waking life. I want to say that the island is perfectly round but I’m not sure. All I know is that there’s a giant building in the center. When I first “wake up” in my dream, I walk from the ocean to the front door. There isn’t a door as much as an 8 foot tall by 5 foot wide opening into the building.

Inside, there is a large kitchen that reminds me of Japan. It’s a flat stove that looks like a hibachi grill, and there’s many tables in front of it. I haven’t been to Asia yet, but it looks like a food place I liked in Seattle. The room is always full of younger kids, with the exception of the cook, who looks to be a weary 35-year old Japanese woman. Steam rolls off from the grill and there’s always a noticeable amount of humidity in the room.

Next to the kitchen is a staircase, there’s nothing unusual about it other than that it leads to a small doorway. The gap is covered in a curtain and the children run up and down the steps. Once up the staircase, there is a hallway that is filled with various doors. I can’t remember what each door leads to but there’s one that leads into the Spanish apartment I stayed in for the years 2010-2013.

The gaining apartment varies between the place I stayed at on the ocean, and the one that was in Bilbao (a Basque city). The point of this door seems to be to send me across the ocean. Rarely do I stay in that apartment, it just gets me over to Spain.

If you continue down that hallway, you’ll find a staircase that leads outside. There’s no door and it connects directly with a beach. The sand is rough and blown into very small dunes. Around the beach there’s grass growing and fencing similar to the Danish beaches I’ve seen. This is my gateway to either the ocean or Denmark.

If I continue down that beach, there is an unusually tall building in the midst of a city. In that city there are only 5 or 6 buildings, and none of them serve a purpose. The tallest building had an elevator inside that leads around 50 floors up. At the top, my friend from Denmark lives.

The layout of this dreamscape is concrete in my mind but when I’m dreaming, I easily get lost. That door that leads to Spain is often ambiguous and hard to find. I usually get too entangled in the Danish beach to find that miniature city. I ask directions but the children in that kitchen are Spanish and don’t speak English.

Everything is bizarre about it but there’s one thing that makes sense: this is how I connect very distant locations into one area. Instead of biking for hours in my mind, I can just walk down the hall into Spain or elsewhere. This island functions as a mental airport where I can deliver myself to any location.

Perhaps our mind connects ideas in the same way: we create shortcuts between ideas that are difficult to get to. We can tie one scent with a location so that we can easily remember it. We store information in these connections so that we can tie recurring information with information that we don’t commonly access.

For example, we may tie the feeling of carpet with a particular memory. Each time we step on that carpet, we’re reminded of that memory. In a more complex example, that carpet may tie to something more intricate, like the feeling of seeing your parents after a long trip. Not the visual memory but the feeling. Every time you step on that carpet, you’re reminded of that feeling when you saw your parents after a year separation.

We commonly experience this with smells: I have days that I walk into the bathroom at work and it smells like the summer camp I worked at in 2008. Each time I walk in there, it’s like I’m transported back to then. This tie hasn’t been used in a very long time and it’s very rare that I think about 2008. Therefore, connecting the two is very important. When I smell that, I remember a basically dead memory. If there was no connection, I would totally forget that memory.

If any of you reading this have taken psychology, this would be the connection between the neurons. To keep neurons strong, you connect them. However, it seems unusual that an old connection could still be awoken.

By placing all of these locations nearby in my dreams, it’s like I’m able to skate down these old paths. Instead of having to explore through my whole head, I’m able to go straight to Spain. I don’t have to imagine driving to the airport, going through security, finding my gate, getting on the plane, et cetera. I just walk through a door.

What’s even more interesting is that I use a door to get to Spain while getting Denmark by walking down a beach. In my head I must retain the concept of a door: to connect two locations. For some reason, Denmark isn’t this able to be traveled to so easily.

I guess the lesson here is that dreams are weird. I feel like I have greater understanding of how my mind connects locations now. Anyways, that was really difficult to explain. If you read this far, I’m impressed! The human mind is such a weird instrument.

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16/31 Blogtober

Abandoned Paper Factory; Ea, Basque Country, Spain

There was an abandoned paper plant in the city where I lived in Spain. The buildings were so old that the plants had overtaken and stripped the walls down to stone. The people in the village had grown with the factory and did not see its beauty.

On my first year, I explored and took many pictures. These ones are all unedited and directly off my hard drive. If I ever go back, I think I’ll camp and live there. At the front of that creek is a giant dam and I took pictures with it during my second year. Looking back, it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

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4/31 Blogtober

 

Playlist Live Tickets

At work, I watched as Playlist-Live tickets were sold. The number of available tickets dropping from 77 to 70 to 69. The last event looked amazing and I was really bummed about not going. So, today I bought a ticket. I don’t have a car to get there yet. No hotel booked. Not even a guarantee that I’ll be able to attend. But I decided that I have things that I want to do in my life and I can’t wait for all the details.

I can’t plan every aspect of my life. $200 is a lot of money, especially for an event that doesn’t have a lineup released yet. I’m not sure I’d spend $75 for a band concert. But I know that this is something I want to do, even if I’m alone.

I fear driving for 5 hours to go a city where I don’t know anyone. Especially with having to return to work a few days later. What if I have complications and I’ll be back late? I could get lost or experience any number of difficulties. My family is on the other side of the country; I can’t just call for help. These are all the things that limit me and run through my mind constantly. They keep me at home and in my bed. But I can’t experience life from under my bed sheets.

While I don’t know everything that will happen, I plan on going to Playlist-Live 2015 in Orlando, Florida. It’s nearly 6 months away and a 300 mile drive, but I’m really excited. Maybe I’ll get back into making videos or change how I blog. Who knows? Plus I’ll be finished with my 365 in just a few months! Maybe a vlogging 365 will follow? Mm, probably not. But who knows! I’m liking this mystery and daringness that I’m finding within myself. There are obstacles we put in front of ourselves that we must overcome and tonight I feel like I’m surpassed one.

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P.S. ONLY 90 DAYS LEFT! WOOT!

CouchSurfing

After many months of neglect, I’m finally getting involved with CouchSurfing again! I’m inspired by Benny Lewis, Marcus MB, Amanda Palmer, and many other people. If you don’t know what CS is, it’s basically a network of travelers. Instead of staying at hotels when you’re visiting a new town, you can ask to be hosted. You’ll stay on a stranger’s couch or in their spare room. It’s a great way to travel cheap and I’m sure I’ll write more about it in the future.

Malia AuParis offers many great travel videos and advice on CouchSurfing. She’s been around the world and staying on stranger’s couches since starting. Her wit and humor is entertaining and I highly recommend her videos.

Find me on CS!

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How Traveler’s Communicate

While reading “AWOL on the Appalachian Trail”, David Miller talks about how hikers communicate and their willingness to talk about their lives. The long days of walking with strangers, teamed up with a common goal (to finish the hike), cultivates a different sense of community. While living in the city, talking to a stranger may seem bizarre, it’s common for hikers to discuss their personal lives with equally unknown hikers.

AWOL (David Miller) write in his book that many days are spent hiking 10+ miles with somebody that you just met. In your office, it’s unlikely that you’d talk about your aspirations openly but on the trail people are receptive. You feel un-threatened because you’re likely to never meet this person again. Eventually it becomes natural to say where you’re from, what you were doing with your life, what you want to be doing instead, and about why you’re out on the trail.

Although I’ve never been long-distance hiking, I believe that traveling has shifted my communication in the same way. When I fly to another country, I often have meaningful conversations with the person I’m sitting next to on the plane. There have been businessmen from around the world giving me life advice simply because I ask them. When you’re traveling, your communication changes.

You realize that the person you’re talking to won’t be in your life forever. Rather than having small talk, you immediately go deep. It doesn’t really matter if a stranger knows where you’re from or what you dream of doing. You’ll probably never see them again and so what if you do.

After you open up many times, you realize that even when you aren’t traveling it doesn’t matter what you say. You can be open with more people in your daily life because you know that it really doesn’t matter if they know about your ambitions.

Another bi-product is that you begin to have less idle chatter. When you meet people for only a couple hours, you decide to skip the ten minute conversation about the weather. Instead you opt for talking about your passions in life.

Spending many months in foreign countries has changed how I talk with others. Sometimes people complain that I only have deep existential conversations. They also talk about how open I am to share my life. These are directly caused by traveling and meeting so many people for such a brief period. I dive deep into conversation because I want to know about your life. There’s no point in complaining about the Charleston heat, I want to know what you’ve done with your life and what you’ve learned.

Perhaps it’s a cursed traveler’s mark but AWOL had it right in his book: going to new places changes how you talk with others.

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Traveling in Basque Country: Ea

04561 The festivals in Euskadi are crazy, I’ve written about them before and I’ll share more of them (and other travels) as I dig deeper into my hard-drive. Over the past few months I’ve realized that I have a lot of material that I haven’t shared yet, so over the course of the these next few months, I will be posting more articles on the places I’ve been to.

In Ea, friends of mine wrote and practiced music they would perform in their own village for a fiesta. These people are very prideful of their heritage, so naturally they sang in Basque, instead of Spanish. Last year I posted a video of them practicing, and I guess it’s time that I share the video of them performing.

IMG_2683The Basque people are beautiful because the pride they have for their people. They’re connected to their roots and understand the traditions of the people who came before them. Fifty years ago, speaking or writing Basque was illegal under Spanish law. Books and other Basque material were destroyed by these unfair rules. Its people maintained the language and kept the culture alive.

During WWII, Spain’s ruler bombed its own innocent population (see Picasso’s “Guernica“) in the city of Gernika. If you go there today, you’ll see that the entire city is new – that’s because it was destroyed almost 80 years ago. Everything was rebuilt since then, and the city stands once again.

The city grows as a testament that the Basque people are both resilient and strong. Many people don’t know about the attack during WWII or the persecution of Basques. That is why it is amazing to visit them. Their sense of pride and heritage is so different from the US.

IMG_2705 IMG_2615 The first country I traveled alone to was Basque Country, and I will never forget the hospitality they had for me. Going to Ea I had no idea that I would come back again, nor did I ever realize the impact it would have on my life.

I think another traveler I met summed up Basque Country pretty well; “You never have to worry about violence at the parties here. They’re kind and you’ll never see a bar fight. In fact, when they’re drunk, you’re more likely to get kissed by a Basque than punched in the face.”

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IMG_2642This fiesta lasted all day and consisted of an entire village of people dancing in the center of town. At night, my friends sang while everyone and their brother came out to watch. They all got together to celebrate life and where they came from.

IMG_2732Everywhere you go, you experience a different culture and a new set of people. When I went to Basque Country, I experienced a sense of community and passion for heritage. I learned of the trials of their people and the celebrations they have to honor their history. In short; we drank, we danced to ska, we ran around the town in our underwear, and I learned the joys of community.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Basque Country, go!

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Whitney Justesen’s Icelandic Expedition (Interview)

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground”. He was speaking about balancing great dreams with action. A photographer from Northern California reminds me of this quote because she is down to earth but dreams of distant lands. She manages these wander-struck dreams of travel by making them into a reality.

Whitney Justesen is an all-around artist. Currently, she runs her own photography business in California and enthusiastically posts about the places she visits. She specializes in portraiture and has no reservations about blending people with the beautiful landscapes she sees. Her presence on Flickr has made her known as both a kind person and powerful artist.

Whitney’s style often aligns with what Damien Rayuela calls “The Halted Traveler”. This style of art was attributed to romantic German painters whose subjects looked away from the viewer. This asks the person looking at the photograph to share the view with the subject.

Whitney’s art is intimate in the same way: you have the opportunity to feel like you are standing with the person she photographed. These emotions are well documented along with her travels on her Flickr and Tumblr. You can tell that Whitney is going to far away places because with each photograph, she invites you to run away with her.

The latest place she brought us to is Iceland.

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Eric Albee:

Whitney, first I wanted to say thank you, both for the interview and sharing so much of yourself. Your passion for life is louder than words and your desire to travel is contagious! It’s a pleasure to interview again and I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future.

Let’s start at the beginning, you teamed up with photographers Rob Woodcox and Elizibeth Gadd for this trip. The three of you funded your stay through Kickstarter under the name “The Restless Youth“. Where did the idea of traveling to Iceland originate and why did you choose this as your name?

Whitney Justesen:

The idea for traveling to Iceland was actually Lizzy’s idea, originally. She had been discussing it with a friend of hers for months, and then with another friend of ours from Flickr, and then with Rob. I originally did not expect to go with them, but as soon as I heard about it, I knew that that was something I would love to do. When the other friend unexpectedly dropped out because of financial restraints, Lizzy and Rob came to me and asked if I would be interested in joining them. Without almost a second thought, I made my decision to go—and the rest is history.

As far as the name “The Restless Youth” goes, it was a group decision to come up with a catchy name to go by for our journey. After a lot of discussion and debate, we decided on something that seemed to fit all our personalities pretty well 😉

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Eric Albee:

Rob (MI), Elizibeth (B.C.), and You (CA), come from very different parts of the country. According to your biographies, you also seem to have different artistic visions. How did you collaborate and plan this trip? What were some of the things each person wanted? As a group, what locations and experiences did you decide you couldn’t live without?

Whitney Justesen:

Rob, Lizzy, and I met for the first time back in 2012 in Vancouver, BC at a small Flickr meetup. I had been following both of their photography for several years previous to meeting them, and as soon as we got together, it was pretty obvious that we clicked. We all have very different backgrounds and artistic visions, but we are united in our desire to create and inspire the world with our art. We all knew that we wanted to
go into this journey to Iceland with the intention of creating something new—for Rob and Lizzy it was to create their own new photography series’, and for me, I wanted to work on a short film about our expedition. (Hopefully I’ll start working on that soon haha)

Lizzy had all the locations planned out to a T. Since she has wanted to go to Iceland for years, she knew exactly the places we should see and visit in Iceland. With those places in mind, we were able to formulate ideas and come up with conceptual photographs that would work in those environments.

Eric Albee:

Lately there has been a lot of attention placed on Iceland for its beautiful landscapes. Parts of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty were filmed in locations that you visited. Music videos by famous musicians (i.e. Woodkid (“I Love You“) and Bon Iver (Holocene))were also shot there. Artists like Sigur Rós and Björk originate from Reykjavík. With all the media displaying Iceland, what were some of your expectations before arriving?

Whitney Justesen:

Yeah! It’s really so interesting how much more attention Iceland has been getting in the media in the past few years. I’ve seen at least three movies in the past year that were filmed in Iceland, and as you said, some of the greatest music artists of our age are either Icelandic citizens, or have filmed music videos there. One of my favorite music videos is Holocene, by Bon Iver, which is filmed on location in Iceland.

It’s no wonder why, too, because Iceland is truly beautiful. It’s gorgeous in such a distinct way from other places in the world because it’s so strange and otherworldly, and relatively untouched in its natural beauty. Unlike the U.S. and other popular tourist destinations around the world, there aren’t fences and security guards and signs all over the place, making sure you don’t touch anything. Iceland is real and raw in every way, and I wish there were more places in the world like it.

I think if I had any expectations of what Iceland would be like before I went, I think I knew I was going somewhere that was totally otherworldly—almost like walking on Mars or being transported into a prehistoric age. Obviously, my expectations were met and exceeded in every way.

FiniteEric Albee:

A couple weeks before traveling to Iceland, you shot an elopement in Alaska. You’ve also been to many other locations including Paris, Vienna, London and all over Italy. What have you seen on this journey that is different from the earlier ones? What were some of the unique challenges to visiting Iceland? Were there any barriers in language or with laws that you had to overcome?

Whitney Justesen:

That’s the thing I love about traveling. Everywhere you go is different and interesting in it’s own way. That’s why I have such a strong desire to see more of the world, to experience life in other places and feel pleasantly uncomfortable in my surroundings. Europe is different from Iceland because of course there are several places that are tourist traps, so you have to be on your guard and watchful of everything you do.

That’s not to say you can’t enjoy Europe, because obviously that’s not true—I love Europe with all my heart and can’t wait to see more of it! However, it was different in Iceland because, while some places were more “touristy”, the majority of the country was open, untouched land just waiting to be explored. I loved it.

Also, I was actually surprised how few language barriers there were in Iceland; almost everyone in the country spoke English! I wasn’t expecting that at all, especially knowing that Iceland was an isolated island without as many tourists coming through as other places in Europe.

I think the biggest challenge we faced was understanding the names of certain locations we visited (try saying Fjaðrárgljúfur five times fast) and figuring out our way around the country. There was also a little incident with a speeding ticket at one point that I won’t elaborate on… 😉

Eric Albee:

We all know how long a flight feels when you’re excited to go to a new place. Especially when you have to fly over the ocean! You’re an experienced traveler, so could share some of the ways that you keep yourself entertained on a long flight? What songs were stuck on repeat for the flight over? Were there any books you couldn’t put down?

Whitney Justesen:

Haha anyone who knows me knows that I strongly dislike flying. Reasons being, a) I dislike sitting in one place for several hours and b) I severely hate turbulence. So I guess with that being said, I’m a good person to ask this of because I usually have a lot of things to distract me on long flights haha.

I have a hard drive I usually bring with me that has movies on it, or I read until I can’t keep my eyes open any more. This planebride it was “The Fault in Our Stars”, because the movie was coming out right after I returned and I hadn’t read the book yet. Finished it halfway through the first flight 😉

When I don’t feel like reading or watching movies anymore, I often just stare out the window at the patterns in the clouds and the textures of the earth far below me. Those are always some of my favorite views on my
travels.

Also, I tried to keep a journal on this trip, but I literally just wrote one entry the entire time—on the flight to Iceland. Whoops…

In The Shadow of the Falls

Eric Albee:

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty showed that Iceland is very different from the US. There’s a scene in the movie when Walter interacts with two Icelandic boys who don’t speak English. After non-verbally exchanging an item for a long-board, he skates down the side of a mountain. During your adventure you visited that same location. The newness of that experience was enough to change Walter’s outlook
on life. When you first arrived to Reykjavík, and your view of Iceland was fresh like Walter’s, what was the first thing that struck you? What were some of the bizarre things that you saw while visiting the country?

Whitney Justesen:

I saw that movie (Walter Mitty) at the end of last year, and as soon as the credits rolled, I told my friend Katie, “That’s it, I’m going to go to Iceland someday.” At that point, I didn’t have any plans for visiting the country, and Rob and Lizzy hadn’t even started discussing the trip. Who could have known at that time that just about six months later, I would actually be going to Iceland? It’s crazy to think about it now.

Anyways, on to your questions 😉

Since I was about as unfamiliar with Iceland as Walter Mitty when I arrived, besides reading some books and seeing some pictures, I didn’t know fully what to expect. As I said in a previous answer, I knew Iceland was going to be strange and different, but nothing could have truly prepared me for what I was going to see. Iceland is such a mixture of landscapes and environments—from calm mountainous valleys with waterfalls trickling down, to harsh volcanic regions, to tumultuous beaches with gigantic cliffs all around.

When I first arrived in Reykjavik, I was surprised at how modern the city was, while still being so…quaint, I guess? It was a bustling metropolis, with shops and bars and restaurants on every street. I definitely preferred the open landscapes of Iceland to the city life though. Some of the most bizarre things I saw in Iceland were the freestanding rocks out in the ocean, like at Reynisdrangar Beach, as well as the glacial lagoon with icebergs floating all around, and the canyon we visited at the end of our trip, called Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. Iceland itself is just crazy bizarre in every way.

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Eric Albee:

At the beginning of trip, you spent time in Iceland’s largest city. The images you posted of Reykjavík showed the colorful buildings and its beauty. How would you contrast this area with other cities that you’ve traveled to in the past? When you
were in this city, what did you do on your average day?

Whitney Justesen:

Reykjavik was an interesting city, to say the least. It wasn’t like most of the European cities I have visited in the past, as it was much more modern and colorful. There was street art on almost every large wall in the city. The citizens were well-dressed, fair, and impeccably beautiful. Also, there were cats everywhere haha. Even though it was different from most cities I have visited, I felt comfortable. I liked it.

On an average day in Reykjavik, we got up, went to the coffee shop up the road called Reykjavik Roasters, and just explored the city. We stopped into shops and looked at sweaters and talked to the shopkeepers. We ate at a little vegan-vegetarian restaurant called Graen Kostur (I think I butchered that spelling) and explored the gigantic church in the city center. We took pictures. We got excited for all the places we would soon be visiting on our journey. Reykjavik was a good base for us, but I couldn’t have stayed the entire time there. There’s too much to see in the rest of the country.

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Eric Albee:

On Tumblr you posted a series of photos titled “From where I stood“. The series included six images taken downward towards your feet at various places along the trip. This set has received over 3,000 notes on Tumblr and is steadily increasing. The images almost connect the viewer with the areas that you visited. Could you tell us a little about the series and locations featured in them?

Whitney Justesen:

It’s now got over 10,000 notes, thank you 😉 Haha No, but it was actually a series that I didn’t originally have planned at all, but it sort of came to me while I was in Iceland. There’s a photographer I studied about in my History of Photography class a few years back that liked to include the very tips of his feet in his images, as a way to say “I was here.” That was my way of documenting the fact that I was there in Iceland, and I guess Tumblr caught on to it 🙂 Thanks internet?

Eric Albee:

At Skógafoss you wrote about being left breathless by the power of nature. The variance in locations is astounding and the size of these wonders is enough to make a person’s jaw drop. You have photographs with icebergs, giant fields, moss-covered canyons, dark rock caverns, and it’s all on one island. With that said, can you describe some of the scenery you experienced and the powers of nature that you saw?

Whitney Justesen:

Oh man. I have thought about this a thousand times since returning from Iceland, and each time I try to put it into words, I am left speechless. Nature, in its purest state, is monumental and powerful. It can be dangerous too, and we saw so much that would have scared a lot of people. Luckily (or maybe unfortunately), I have never been one to shy away from perilous places.

I couldn’t leave the glacial lagoon without standing on an iceberg; I couldn’t leave Reynisdrangar Beach without running past the violent, gigantic waves to shoot in the cave on the other side; I couldn’t visit the canyon without standing on one of those freestanding rocks. I might be crazy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Iceland provided us with this crazy, strange, beautiful amusement park that is an absolute photographer’s paradise, and we all loved it so much.

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Eric Albee:

Adventure is Out There” was a photograph that you took at Svartifoss Waterfall. The image features the three of you facing away from the camera and towards the water. Many of your images from Iceland are styled in a similar way. Your close and intimate portraits suddenly changed to something more distant. Your subjects were no longer close and the images seemed to take on their subject’s environment. Was there a particular theme or emotion that you trying to convey through these postures and sudden change in style?

Whitney Justesen:

I have a lot of friends who take photos in a similar way— Lizzy, for example. I think it’s a way to connect humanity with nature. For her, it’s a way to show that we as humans are so small in comparison to the world, and yet we each have worth and importance. I wish to share a similar sentiment, but I think for me, it’s also a way to show that humans are so fascinated by the natural world, and we can blend so seamlessly
with it.

We were created from the dust of the earth, and we are a part of this world. We can either learn to love and appreciate it, or we can go on with life focusing on ourselves and our own interests. For me, I choose the former. Life is beautiful, nature is powerful, and I want to spend my life appreciating the fact that it is here for us to experience it. These photos I take of people (and myself) looking out onto the world are my way of showing how important it is to appreciate life and all its wonders.

AdventureisoutthereEric Albee:

In this image (above) you thanked Vanguard Photo USA for contributing
supplies for your trip. These included tripods and other equipment. What were some of the unique challenges to taking photographs in such a raw environment? In the past you’ve posted funny out-takes where you’ve tripped or otherwise had to retake a photograph. Do you feel that you were better ready for this adventure?

Whitney Justesen:

Haha I had completely forgotten about the photo I posted once where I tripped right in the middle of taking a photo…man now I can’t
stop laughing haha.

Anyways, *wipes tears away*, as I said, Iceland was actually one of the
easiest places to take photos I have ever visited.

The reason I say that is because, a) there was absolutely no one around for miles in many places we visited. It made it easy to just focus in on the photographic process, without worrying about people seeing you, judging you, etc.

The other reason it was easy was because b), duh, it’s Iceland—anywhere you pointed your camera is a gorgeous shot haha. I mean really the only thing that was a struggle for me was taking photos that I felt captured the essence and beauty of those locations. I didn’t want the concepts or the outfits or the poses to clash with the natural beauty I saw, and I wanted my photos to complement it, not distract from it.

Eric Albee:

For a week you traveled on Ring Road (also known as Route 1) around Iceland. It circles the entire island and connects many of the places that you visited during your trip. The road is notoriously small and unpaved in certain patches. Many of nights that week you spent camping. What was the average day like during this time? What was it like sleeping in wild and open Iceland at night?

Whitney Justesen:

Traveling around the Ring Road was definitely a defining experience on our journey through Iceland. We drove along Fjords and across volcanic landscapes, through snowy mountain passes and beside gigantic waterfalls. We spent those few days driving as much as we could, seeing as much as we could, until we got too tired to go any further. Then, we would find a suitable place to camp for the night, and we would pitch our
tent.

Now, honestly, I’m not the world’s best camper. If I’m cold, I get grumpy, and I don’t like sleeping on the hard ground if I don’t have to. I don’t like bugs and I don’t like large wild animals coming too close for comfort in the middle of the night. The times I’ve camped in the past haven’t always been ideal, and so to say I was worried about camping in the middle of nowhere in freezing Iceland would be an understatement.

However, to my surprise, I actually came to like camping while I was there, a lot more than I had in the past. We always found relatively soft ground to sleep on, our tent was warm and we all had enough blankets to keep us from freezing, and apparently in Iceland, there are no wild and dangerous animals to worry about. It was probably my best camping experience up until that point in my life, for sure.

Hopefully in the future I’ll be able to take these camping experiences and apply them. I’ll be better at camping from now on, I promise 😉

//instagram.com/p/oKD0eHtAnK/embed/

Eric Albee:

On Instagram you posted an image where you stood on the side of a mountain. You wrote about being struck with a sudden clarity of your life. In that moment you understood why things happened and why others didn’t. After returning home, how do you think these moments of clarity have affected you? How do you feel that traveling to Iceland has changed you both artistically and as a person?

Whitney Justesen:

My honest belief is that everything does happen for a reason. Now, I’m not sure how much I believe in destiny, but I do believe that we do not end up on certain paths by mistake. As I was standing on that mountain, I was reflecting on the experiences in my life that had brought me to that point. I have been through some difficult times and
nasty heartbreaks, but I believe those experiences led me to that moment,
to that feeling of peace and understanding.

Iceland changed me in many ways. I am still the same person I have always been of course, but it gave me a new outlook on life, a new appreciation for the beauty of the world, and of course, it strengthened my friendships. Everything is always changing these days, but I will always have those moments on my travels to look back on, and remember the way I felt. I know now that whatever happens in the future, whatever gut-wrenching trials I have to go through, it will always lead me to where I’m supposed to be.

Eric Albee:

Many people complain about the difficulties associated with traveling while simultaneously having a deep desire for visiting faraway places. Common struggles to hear about included budgeting, making time, and having a fear of going to a brand new place. If you had to give advice about overcoming these difficulties, what would say? In your own travels, what struggles do you face and how do you overcome them?

Whitney Justesen:

Traveling isn’t easy. I mean, if you’re a millionaire, maybe it is—but not when you’re a young adult just out of college. (Or give or take a few years). There are many things I have had to give up in order to travel as much as I have in the past year or so.

I’ve never really had fears about going to new places, so I can’t speak for that one in particular, but I have faced the challenge of budgeting and making time for travel. I rarely have a lot of money in my bank account — often I make a good sum of money from a client gig or something, and then I immediately spend it on a plane ticket. But, luckily, I have always had enough to get by.

It’s important to make sure you budget your travel wisely, as we tried to do on our Icelandic journey. It doesn’t always work out exactly like you have planned, but it’s important to budget as much as you can. I would hate to be stuck in some foreign country without money :O I also firmly believe that people should make travel a priority, if they can.

Everybody needs to get away from the stresses of everyday life once in a while, and we can all benefit so much from seeing new places and experiencing new ways of life. Even if it’s small road trips or day trips, it’s always a great idea to get away as often as you are able to—even if it’s just for the day.

Photos

Eric Albee:

On the Kickstarter campaign, Rob Woodcox, Elizibeth Gadd, and you ventured out to “be an example to others that artists can truly thrive and create anything they can dream”. Since returning do you feel that you’ve accomplished this goal? On a personal level, do you feel more satisfied as a freelance artist by having gone on this journey?

Whitney Justesen:

I personally think we accomplished this goal above and beyond our expectations. I hope that we were able to show people that nothing is out of reach if you truly want it, as Iceland was a dream of each of ours. We wanted to travel to a foreign country, one that was unfamiliar to all of us, and we wanted to create new work and new personal series’—and I can say without question that we each did just that. Everybody can live their dreams if they truly desire to do so, and sometimes all it takes is a first step in the right direction.

Personally, I feel more fulfilled and satisfied with myself as an artist than I have in years following this journey. I have proven to myself that I can make big things happen, and that I can live the life I desire to. Iceland truly was the journey of a lifetime, and I will never forget the memories I made there.

Eric Albee:

Thank you Whitney for documenting such an amazing adventure and taking us along with you. Viewing your work is always a pleasure and I appreciate your time and wisdom. I look forward to where you go in the future and wish you safe travels wherever that may be.

Whitney Justesen:

Thank you Eric 🙂

TheFathomlessSurrender

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If you are looking to view more of Whitney’s journey to Iceland, the links to her websites are posted below:

Facebook
Flickr
Website
Instagram
Blog
Travel blog

 

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Falling in love with the Airport

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This photo was taken four years ago during my first journey over to Spain. It was the first time I traveled alone internationally and I will never forget the experience. The people I met and the places I saw forever changed how I saw the world.

Everything starts at the airport, and the airport is built on rushing people, overpriced food, and repetitive loudspeaker messages. Behind the blare and initial discomfort, there’s a deeper emotion: the feeling of excitement and wonder. It’s the blood of traveling and if you listen close enough, you can hear its heartbeat.

Each person is moving in their own direction, completely unaffected by everyone else. The paths that each person takes are varied and go to different destinations. You see people dressed up going to business conferences while others lug around family members on vacation.

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This trip to Spain was significant because it was the first time I went alone. No one was there to tell me which way to go or who to be. I could find my path and make my own accomplishments. Getting to each gate wasn’t difficult, but I felt great knowing I could get around.

Everyone was so diverse and unique but we were all the same. On the flight to Paris, I sat next to a girl in her mid-20s. She was flying from a Google business conference in Hawaii back to her home in France. On the flight she spoke English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and German to me. What amazes me is that she was only a few years older than I am now. She was born in Colombia, an incredibly poor country, and grew up to be a Google Analyst living in Paris. What have I done in my life that can even compare?

Occasionally when I meet new people at the airport I ask them what advice they can offer to a 20-year-old. The words they give often shock me. On the flight from Minneapolis to Charleston, a woman told me: “No matter what paths you take in life, know that you can always change course. It doesn’t matter how far you go in one direction, you can always change. Don’t ever think that you have to keep going on one path”.

That is the spirit of the airport: the power to choose your path and destinations in life. You become closer to your goals and the excitement of pursing your dreams. Each flight leads to new places and new experiences where you could do anything. I think that is where we feel most alive, where we can follow our dreams and pursue anything without the baggage of where we live or who we are. In the airport, we are stripped of everything and left with only our pursuits. That is why I love the airport.

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Traveling [short]

Where do you want to go in the world? Why don’t you plan on going there right now? Go to Expedia.com and look how much tickets are. It’s much easier than you probably think it is.

It’s so surprising to hear of all the places that people want to go to but never actually go to. It’s as if the idea of travel is as foreign as the place they want to go. You don’t have to know the language, and it’s usually a lot cheaper than you think it is. At the beginning of this year I looked up tickets to Denmark ($800), Ireland ($700), and Australia ($1,700)(all round trip by the way). Once you find where you want to go, you can couchsurf, stay in hostels, or, of course, stay in a hotel. When you start the process of looking things up online, you will start to see it as a possibility – like a goal. It’s amazing to travel and it’s so disappointing to hear all the places people want to go but are too afraid to go to.

Don’t worry so much, travel is so easy! How can you say you want to go somewhere but not even look into it?! Go out and do it! 😀

 

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