What happens when a team embarks on a United States road trip in an Airsteam-turned-darkroom with loads of film? For Worthless Studios, almost 36,000 photographs documenting the country through the eyes of many cultural backgrounds.
Worthless Studios is an NYC-based not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing space, materials, and resources for aspiring artists. In 2019, they built Free Film: USA, a project in which they would travel across the country and distribute rolls of 35mm film to image-makers. Less than a year later, they also created Free Film: June 2020, in hopes of empowering artists to document the nationwide protests and disasters that occurred after the killing of George Floyd amidst the pandemic. They have turned the results into curated books (Preorder now!) Founder Neil Hamamoto is here today to discuss the story.
Hi Neil, welcome back to the Lomography Magazine. Last time we spoke you were in the middle of the Free Film USA Road Trip with the Darkroom Airstream. How was that experience for you and your team?
I tried not to have any expectations going into the trip so that my experience each day could feel spontaneous and unique. And even with the repetitiveness of the day-to-day at the Airstream, I think I was successful. The American road trip has so much to offer each and every second, it's just important that you keep your head up and your eyes open.
What was the overall outcome –– how many rolls did you guys distribute, develop and curate for the book?
We ended up distributing close to 1,500 rolls. We saw just shy of 1,000 of those back bringing our image total close to 36k images. The book, which just went on pre-order, ended up only being about 85 images. Let's just say curating down from 36k to 85 was a bit of a challenge.
The theme for the photo prompt was "Red White and Blue." Were there any recurring themes in the photos people took?
Yes, tons of themes. Of course we had commonalities across each city like the American Flag, McDonald's, birds sitting on telephone wires, but also some more unique commonalities arose. It was those unique similarities that really get to the core of what the project is about. If two strangers with different backgrounds, viewpoints, and beliefs are prompted with the same topic and shoot the same picture, aren't they more connected than they think?
How would you describe the people who took part in the project –– did you notice any similarities in interests, types, or professionalism?
The range was phenomenal. We had young first-time film shooters and we had old-time National Geographic legends. We had rising stars and failing shutters. We had folks with more technical knowledge and experience than our entire team combined and we had folks who couldn't load their cameras.
Connecting with so many strangers across the country, I'm sure you have some stories to tell. Any especially memorable moments?
Getting robbed in Detroit would rank pretty high. We didn't get to actually meet those strangers though. Also, camping overnight in Arches National Park and Shelter Cove, CA. The long and open road between Las Vegas and Santa Fe, NM was pretty fantastic and of course, blocking the box in Times Square traffic as we arrived back home. All these moments led to some pretty fantastic encounters with strangers, all very memorable.
What is your takeaway from that experience? What did you learn from it?
You could probably spend an entire lifetime out on the road, discovering America, and only begin to feel the depth of the complexities of this country. I think my biggest takeaway was expanded perspective and deeper empathy.
Are you planning on more Free Film USA adventures?
Yes, 100%! I know FREE FILM : USA will tour again and I can't wait for that day. With each iteration of the project the imagery, the people and the community have only gotten stronger and I know the next cross country tour will bring some more epic stories.
With Worthless Studios, you're supporting upcoming artists. How can people get involved?
Support can come in many forms and we welcome them all. We are actively working on setting up more volunteer opportunities for those looking to support locally to Brooklyn, but also financial support and creative support mean the world to us. Our website is the best way to find out about these options.
Can you let us know about any exciting upcoming plans for Worthless Studios?
Worthless Studios is working on moving into a physical space in Brooklyn so we can better facilitate supporting artists' fabrication needs. It's a massive undertaking but we are making progress and hope to have more news on our opening very soon. We can't wait to welcome our community into our space - particularly analog photographers who will be able to use our new darkroom!
Preorder the Free Film : USA and Free Film : June 2020 Books here.