Peripheral Wanderings

I'm going to let Cole introduce himself on this one...

I am living and working out of a VW Westy. As a photographic artist I use the
historic wet plate collodion process along with other photo techniques to make tintypes
while I travel. Portable darkroom and large format camera in tow, I have been
researching survival and people living on the fringe of our culture.

Most of the work with my Peripheral Subsistence project grew
out of personal experiences and interactions with people along the road.

@colecaswell


 

Peripheral Wanderings

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Mobile Studio with Darkroom, Taos NM

Chechalulla Verde—Lulla has functioned as my mobile studio and home for the past 6 years. My family is in Maine and New Hampshire and I have a studio space on Peaks Island off the coast of Portland, Maine. Each winter as the weather in the northeast becomes unsuitable for working outside I head south or west. Portable darkroom mounted to the back of the van and chemicals stored in boxes on the roof  - we move as nomads  - exploring rural space and contemporary survival tactics in our ever changing present condition. I am constantly teaching and making work while in motion.

The Peripheral Subsistence project is one aspect of my nomadic photographic trek across the United States. The images made for the project use the historic wet plate collodion process to explore the entangled survival tactics of people living or subsisting on the fringes of today’s world. What sort of edge is described when living takes on these conditions? Research driven the travels that make up this exploration delve into the peripheral American landscape. The meandering course is determined based on research interests and an ever-growing network of people and places.

The coalescing focus of the expedition investigates contemporary forms of subsistence living.

The expedition is open ended. In its entirety, it could be seen as a performance, a moving installation, a research kit, or a studio. In parts the project is a photographic catalyst, a collection of stories, an archive of relics, a meal, and a set of questions propelling one to search out new perspectives and options.


Transient Salesman, New River AZ

Within the Valley of Sun the Transient Salesman wanders selling his wears; T-shirts for cash, schemes on the future for the gullible, conversation and nicotine for a ride down the road. While holed up at a horse ranch in Arizona I made this image of a fellow traveler. We knew each other from Maine and it seemed his new take on the old traveling salesman routine fit perfectly into my investigations on contemporary survival methods.


Colbert The Trapper, Hidden Swamp Hideout GA

After spending two weeks with Colbert at his series of hidden cabins in the Georgia swamp I made his tintype. The weeks leading up to this moment where filled with swimming in dark river water while learning Colbert’s methods of survival, trapping, and river navigation in the swamp. We ate beaver stew, cooked in bear fat over a fire at night, and read the natural world while we snacked on edible vines and weeds.


Desert Prospector, New River AZ

Twice I have needed to take on major van repair projects in the empty lot adjacent to Deans tiny house in the foothills of central AZ. When we first met, he stopped at the van to introduce himself and see what I was doing - van parts littering the desert lot as I explained the repair. While we chatted, he offered to let me use his heavy-duty jack and any other tools he might have around. Every day after Dean would stop by or invite me to his cabin. We would chat archaeology, old cars, junk you could find in the desert and how he was excited to make the next trip to Mexico. Often as I departed he would insist that I have a large package of cookies for energy on my van repair project.


Southern Punk, Savannah GA


One of the first images I made in my series Peripheral Subsistence. Shot on the street outside of a friends house in Savannah GA. We had parked to stealth camp and explore Savannah, slipping into the swampy under growth we found punky hobos, road bikes late at night just for fun,  and test our skills hopping on and off of moving train cars. One of the people I was traveling with at the time arranged for this tinype sitting to happen with a fellow traveler. I managed to make this plate in a few minutes while our couch surfing acquaintance stood insisting he needed to smoke for the process to work.


Artifacts of Investigation, Cumberland Island GA

I was told a story by a good friend about an off grid museum and scientist on the Northern portion of Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia. Cumberland Island, currently a National Park, only allows the public to hike its trails and roadways. With my interest perked by this off grid naturalist living and working in such a remote area I decided to try and make contact with her by showing up on her door step. The eighteen mile hike up the beach to her section of the island took two days and when I rang the bell on what I thought was her cabin, she was home… Two years later I returned to Cumberland Island with more access and a plan to make tintypes on the island. My portable darkroom and cameras mounted to the back of an ATV, I was able to revisit my old friend and make a series of tintypes.


The Critters, Fernandina Beach, FL

I was in North Florida waiting on permission to access Cumberland Island - a barrier island in South Georgia managed by the National Park service and a number of private landowners. Due to confusion and logistics I ended up having to wait an extra week on the mainland. Needing a camp spot for the van I networked a contact at a local boat yard that allowed people to live aboard while they repaired their boats. The Critters ended up hosting me at the boat yard for the week while they pursued numerous street performance schemes in order to continue their adventure south via sailboat. We made a series of tintypes while relaxing on a dead-end street just outside of town.


Twine Street Dermal Apothecary, Portland ME

I traded a tattoo for the opportunity to make these portraits of Watson and Ty. A powerful transaction. Twine Street Studio rises and shifts with every new iteration of Watson’s imagination. The shoot was canceled twice and almost never happened. All night inspiration to build the tableau in the image overcame Watson prior to our last shooting day. When I arrived to make images, I had no idea what was waiting for me.


Mt Folk, Warm Springs NC

This group of friends has accompanied me on many adventures across the country. In a pursuit to settle into the land they decided to run an off-grid hostel on the top of a mountain. Accessible by permission and four wheel drive most visitors hike into the hostel. We foraged wild ramps and mushrooms while exploring the steep mountain side without trail.


Machete Momma, Taos NM

While visiting me in New Mexico for the first time I made this image of my mother. Standing in our driveway – breakfast and machete in hand, she was tending to the yard, looking for space, and deciding what parts of her life mattered most. Metaphor and simple observation I see an icon of subsistence and survival in our present world.


Building A Hidden Home, Taos NM

I came to meet a family who was building a hidden home. My interest in sustainable living and subsistence-based life styles spurred my interest to photograph the construction in progress. A series of interconnected concrete domes - the house was to be buried within the hillside once complete. Well under construction, when I photographed at the site one of the last layers of concrete was being sprayed. Standing for the image the group of builders pauses allowing me to document the progress on this hidden house.


Dog Man The Vigilantly, Taos NM

The last winter I spent in Taos NM I worked for Dog Man. He had various car repair projects   and needed help. It seemed I might be able to lend a hand and gain some mechanical experience while getting to know Dog Man. A passionate wild man with schemes and theories going in all directions. I wrestled old car parts out of junkyards, worked to make whatever car he said go, and listened the entire time as Dog Man shared his alternative perspectives and passions.


Dog Man The Vigilantly #2, Taos NM


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