An American photographer chases escape outside the echo chamber

An American photographer chases escape outside the echo chamber
Pivot Points: Stories of Change — Huck photographer Andrew White heads out of Brooklyn every summer, with a group of friends in tow, in search of swimming holes off the beaten path. In this edition of Pivot Points, stories that shift a photographer's perspective, he stumbles on moments of pure Americana outside the comfort of his bubble.

It’s 10:30am on a hot Saturday in Bushwick, a quickly changing neighbourhood in north Brooklyn and I’m sat in my car outside Hana’s Natural Foods. For the past four summers this has been point-place for meeting up with friends before heading out of town in hopes of finding new and exciting places to camp and swim. It’s our Fourth of July ritual. And this year, on America’s birthday, we’re going to rural Pennsylvania.

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Full disclosure: I’m a liberal city boy. I spent the first 25 years of my life living in Santa Monica, one of the more progressive corners of the greater Los Angeles area. I attended a public high school of roughly 3,500 students where ‘minorities’ were the majority, helping to shape many of my current views. My mom’s gay, I skateboard, have tattoos, and live in Brooklyn: I’m pretty much a walking cliche.

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I believe a big part of growing up is learning how to get out of your comfort zone and for the patriotic holiday I wanted to explore age-old past times and traditions, and spend time with fellow Americans at watering holes and the local county fair.

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One of the things you quickly notice after leaving New York City, at least from my perspective, is a fading liberal disposition, one I’ve grown accustomed to in my progressive bubble. Once you hit rural Pennsylvania, there are fewer hybrids and more trucks, blue signs quickly turn red, reminding me how divided our country is right now.

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After being on the road for almost four hours, a quick Walmart stop and thirty-minute hike, we arrive at our first destination: a decrepit shell of a former gunpowder mill next to a waterfall that has become a destination for locals and adventure seekers alike. Once you step foot on the foundation, you can’t help but picture the former building a hundred years ago when this place was a thriving enterprise.

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Back at our campsite, we share stories over campfire dinner, set off some fireworks and embark on a ceremonial midnight skinny dip that’s become an annual tradition.

The next morning brings a crisp, welcoming breeze and plenty of visitors to the falls. Families and beer-drinking locals gather to experience the same magic. After breakfast I wander down to the water framing moments. I typically shoot assignment work on a large camera with a full set of lenses. There is something disarming about shooting on a small phone – it feels so familiar and harmless. Conversations strike up easily.

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I photograph some guys in their mid-twenties frolicking in the pond below the falls and then hike up to the trestle, a spot at the top of the waterfall where those who dare will jump from the centre. A group of local teenagers are reminiscing about a day when the water levels were low and their friend broke both his legs jumping off.

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After cooking a trout that a local man gifted us, we hike out and drive to the next destination: a rock-strewn gorge full of waterfalls and cliffs to jump. A friendly local introduces himself as Coyote and later confesses that he’s on acid. He talks about the recent influx of thrill-seekers to this destination and attributes it to the longer summers the north east has been experiencing over recent years.

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The next day, we hike out, and most of our crew head home, leaving only me and fellow camp enthusiast and Huck contributor Bryan Derballa. Bryan and I end up at a county fair, surrounded by stands selling chocolate-covered bacon and locals donning their best red white and blues. I wander around the booths, striking up small talk with some folks and asking people if I could take their pictures. These little moments may seem like nothing, but as a photographer they keep me inspired.

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Everyone has their own reasons for getting out of the city: escaping jobs, politics, reevaluating relationships, or just seeking change. Whatever it is a few days in nature always seems to hit the reset button. For me, this started when I was eight after my parents divorced. My father, in an attempt to make sense of the situation, started taking my brother and I on road trips to national parks. He introduced me to camping and it became a regular tradition throughout my childhood, teenage years and continues to this day. Later this month, we’ll spend time hiking around Yosemite, a national park full of epic beauty.

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It’s times like these with friends and family, outside of the safety of my own bubble, that remind me why I became a photographer in the first place. It’s a reason to engage with total strangers, and a way of pressing pause.

Pivot Points: Stories of Change from Huck Photographers are shot entirely on the KODAK EKTRA Smartphone, a 21 megapixel camera with 4K video capability.

 

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