I was in a creative rut over the tail end of 2018. I wasn’t booking photography work, hated my portfolio, and had no burning desire to make meaningful projects for myself. Adulthood got the best of me, and I needed an escape. I picked Japan because of the influence Japanese culture had on me as a kid. I was craving a city-filled experience with bright lights, colorful anime shops, and infinite camera shops.
After booking the ticket I realized I had to photograph something. Anything. Joking to myself, I thought of photographing the salarymen who walk the streets daily.
Once I was there, I realized how hard it was to approach my subjects for a photograph. On top of the language barrier, they were always on the move and didn’t have time. Some of them thought I was a creep, or were too shy in front of the camera. I got more nos than yeses, but I felt that burning need to create again after the first salaryman agreed to be photographed. I didn’t want to give up until all of my film was shot.
Those who agreed were always curious as to what I was doing with the photographs and why. The meaning became clearer after each new conversation. These men work countless hours every year to make ends meet. Basically sacrificing years of their lives for a company in order to survive or provide. I even met a man who commuted 2 hours to the city to provide for his mother.
I returned home feeling like I met a lot of different versions of me on this trip. In myself, and the salarymen I encountered. I learned to not take work for granted, and to always be suited up (figuratively not literally) for the next job. And that it’s okay to photograph without meaning and to find that meaning later.
— BASIL VARGAS
Last year my soon-to-be wife (that is originally from Budapest) had not seen much of the U.S. so we made plans to tour a lot of the National Parks from Nashville, Tennessee to the tip of Washington state, down the entire west coast and back around to Louisiana. We knew we needed to make this trip happen ASAP as we were moving to Europe within 6 months, but I had a few large mural projects I had to complete before we could leave.
Within a few months time my mother passed away from a very long battle with cancer and her only wishes were to not have a funeral but a party and to be cremated and her ashes spread in incredible locations she never got to travel to, being a single Mom with two sons.
So now the journey was two parts, show my fiancée ‘America the Beautiful’ and honor my mother’s wishes.
Within hours of finishing my last mural project, we loaded up the truck and headed out for a good mix of city sights, camping and exploring. We stopped in Memphis and stayed inside a pyramid, ate lunch outside of a purse museum in Little Rock, placed my mothers earn and spread her ashes at her parents grave site in her home town of Keota, Oklahoma, hiked the Rockies in Boulder, spent a night under the stars at Arches National Park, skateboarded the Salt Flats in Utah, traversed through a tropical storm down the 101 Highway from the tip of Washington state down to Canon beach in Oregon, and woke up to baby seals and an elk outside our car on Gold Bluffs beach in the Redwood Forest in Cali.
As we made our way down the California coast, we realized where we should get married. We both grew up in California and even though I spent a lot of my life in the south, California and Los Angeles specifically just seemed right. Making our way back towards the east coast, we spent a night under the stars at the Grand Canyon, petted Manta Rays in the desert outside of Tucson and made our way through Texas to Louisiana to cruise the swamps, feed wild swamp boars, observe alligators and the rest of the beautiful wildlife in the wetlands, which was our last stop on this journey.
We were so amazed and inspired by all the dynamic landscapes we visited, that it brought an incredibly increased creative flow in my next handful of mural projects, as well as feeling fulfilled about leaving America for awhile to live and explore Europe, and start a new life with my now wife.
CRISTOBAL ASCENCIO RAMOS
After traveling around the world for the last 6 years, I moved back to my hometown in Mexico. I started to get back into a routine, seeing old faces and settling back into a comfortable lifestyle that at the time seemed nice, because comfort is nice, right? It only took me about 6 months to realize that I was stuck. I was to static and I felt trapped. My first instinct was to run away from this feeling by moving physically, so I got on a plane to Argentina and decided to go a desert.
I didn’t quite know what I was looking for, all I wanted was to be in the middle of nowhere, in silence by myself. During the first few days I was amazed by all the textures and colors I was seeing everywhere. The whole landscape seemed surreal, big open spaces everywhere in very remote locations. I remember these first days with a clear sense of being overwhelmed by everything I was seeing, it felt like I was on a whole new planet.
After a week of taking long hikes, covering big distances on a motorbike, and being surrounded by nothing, this became a confrontation with myself and all the feelings I was experiencing back home. I started seeing the desert as a frontier, it can be extremely hot and cold in a single day, the distances can be long and the places very isolated, which is how I was feeling back home. Being completely surrounded by nothing and with no distractions around, I finally started to think on why being back home resulted in me feeling numb, not motivated and feeling static on my creative practice, I realized that this all happened because I was settling into comfort.
I started to think about what comfort meant to me and how it was becoming a block for my creativity. I thought about how these last days traveling had been so exhausting, both physically and mentally, yet I felt more energized and with a sense of clarity that I hadn’t experience since a long time. I realized that this felt so much better, being uncomfortable makes me a lot more active, being lost makes me observe more, I question my environment a lot more when I’m not used to it, and I create more when I’m challenged.
After a few weeks I came back home feeling a lot better. I realized that my creative practice comes from a place of curiosity, a genuine curiosity and desire to understand things that are alien to me. It comes from coming up with questions that I don’t necessarily have the answers to, of not knowing what will happen next and being okay with it. This all comes along with discomfort and unease, which is something I’ve been trying to incorporate more and more into my everyday life in order to not feel stuck, to feel like I’m moving even though I’m in the same place.
—CRISTOBAL ASCENCIO RAMOS