Daily Picture Show

Photographer Goes Off-Grid With An Antique Camera

Robyn Hasty has a notion to travel the country "documenting the collapse of the American economy," as she writes on her website. For that sort of endeavor, you need two obvious things: a car and a camera. She has the car part down. But there are two minor setbacks: She actually doesn't consider herself a photographer. And she can't exactly jump out of the car and take a snapshot with this setup:

Hasty's camera setup i i

Hasty's camera setup Robyn Hasty hide caption

itoggle caption Robyn Hasty
Hasty's camera setup

Hasty's camera setup

Robyn Hasty

For Hasty, inconvenience is kind of the point. Homeland, her project, is not a mad-dash documentary, nor is it really journalistic. It's a slow investigation of alternative communities throughout the U.S. So far, word-of-mouth tips and referrals have taken her to New Orleans, Dallas, Little Rock ... in a Volkswagon hatchback, 1890s-era wet-plate camera in tow.

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Her focus is on far-flung, often off-the-grid locations, where individuals and small communities are getting by in their own unique ways: urban farmers, squatters, metalworkers building boats to float down the Ganges (see slideshow). Some of them may have emerged as a result of economic setback; but many of them have been off the grid as long as there's been a grid.

Hasty takes a photograph with her wet-plate camera

Hasty takes a photograph with her wet-plate camera Tod Seelie hide caption

itoggle caption Tod Seelie

She has no pretensions of being an objective observer. "I've been part of grass-roots movements," she said on the phone. "There's something very intimate about this essay. I'm not an outsider; it's coming from being inside of it, and from personal interactions." Hasty herself is part of a small art collective; The Miss Rockaway Armada, as it's called, has built rafts from trash and floated down the Mississippi. This summer, they are being commissioned to do work in Philadelphia.

On the phone she rattled off a few travel tales — of CouchSurfing and automotive break-down. Some portraits from her most recent road trip, funded by a Kickstarter campaign, include D.J. Rusty Lazer, an activist at the forefront of New Orleans' hip-hop sound known as "bounce." There's Angeliska, who hosts arts events in Austin, Texas. And there are people who want to keep their names and locations anonymous.

Antique medium, hard-to-find communities: In short, it's just one of those unique projects you don't see very often.

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