In October, just as the world’s financial system began to crash, Alan Winslow and his girlfriend, Morrigan McCarthy, did what for most would be unthinkable: they stopping working as photographers in New York City, put all of their possessions in storage and hoped on a pair of bicycles for a 10-month tour of the U.S.
“It was getting harder to get freelance jobs down in the city, and I do fine art photography and sales were down, as you can imagine, and gas prices were going up. It was like right at that convergent point,” Winslow said. “We gave everything up. Our tent has been our home since last October.”
The couple returned to Winslow’s parents’ home in Charlton Saturday after an adventure that took them through 30 states and gave them the opportunity to photograph America during its worst economic recession since the Great Depression.
Winslow, a 2003 graduate of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School, said he and McCarthy’s original idea was to tour the U.S. by bike and interview and photograph people in small towns, asking them what they thought about their local environment. The goal was to compile the photographs into an art show, an idea that the Nathan Cummings Foundation backed with a $5,000 grant, matched with private donations.
He said there was no way they could have anticipated the added dimension the recession would add to what he and McCarthy saw on the road.
“I think it made it really interesting because not only did we do the interviews for the environmental project, but we were also tenting and camping everywhere. We ran across a lot of tent cities and people who were just recently homeless because they’d lost their jobs and everything,” he said. “It was an interesting time to travel.”
While on the road, Winslow and McCarthy uploaded pictures and blog entries to their Web site, www.projecttandem.org.
Winslow said the couple have kept most of their best photos in reserve for the art show, which will retain its focus on the environment.
They are also exploring the possibility of publishing a book with an economic theme.
“We were out there every day just photographing America as we saw it,” he said.
Tough but worth it
McCarthy said both she and Winslow were good athletes in college, but the 10-month journey put them to the test.
“The only way to bike across the county is to wake up every day and not quit. There were definitely days that it was really, really hard, just because you get tired and eventually over time your body is just getting exhausted,” she said. “I think we’re definitely in decent shape now. I think we hit our stride probably leaving the West Coast to come across the country. But then again, about a month or two later, we started slowing down again.”
Originally, the couple planned to tour New England and then head south, but hurricane-related weather in Maine derailed the northern leg of the trip.
Instead, they headed from New York south to Florida, then west to California and then back east through Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
They said they might do another loop of the New England states in the fall to get that perspective for the art show.
McCarthy, a Vermont native, said the biggest misconception she had was how people in the South would treat them.
“We were very surprised in general with the South. Being from the Northeast, we were told a lot to be careful in the south and that maybe it wasn’t as bike friendly or as friendly toward foreigners as other states. I’m not really sure where that comes from,” she said.
“The hospitality of people, particularly in Louisiana, we were just blown away by. People were so friendly. We tried to camp outside, and every time we tried to camp, someone would come by in a pickup truck and tell us to come stay with them in their house. They would be loading up our stuff before we could even say yes or no.”
The most spectacular state she visited was Montana.
“Hands down, Montana was one of the spectacular places that either of us has ever been. It was just gorgeous. We had the opportunity to just hang out at a ranch for a day and see the workings of that lifestyle and it was amazing. That and just the flat lands surrounded by souring mountains with snow-capped peaks — it was pretty glorious.”
Winslow said the thing he learned about the most during the journey was the giving nature of Americans.
“We met so many people, and the generosity of America, I knew people were nice … but the doors that were open to us and the people that gave us food and bought us breakfasts out of nowhere,” Winslow said.
“That happened everywhere. The generosity of people in America was just outstanding.”
The couple said when the date for their art show is finalized, they will post it on their Web site.
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