So much of photography is about taking risks, going out there and getting the shot you want. Sarah Ann Loreth is someone who understands that and commits to it. Last year, she did something many of us can only dream of doing. She quit her job of 6 years and went on a 3-month journey across the country to conduct workshops with two photographers she met online…all for the love of photography and giving back to others. The result is The Wild Ones: beautiful, heartwarming and brimming with lessons for us all.
You met fellow photographers and travel-companions Shane Black and Joel Robison on the internet. How did that come about? Can you tell us more about them?
We had been admiring each other’s work for a few years on the photo sharing website Flickr, sending messages back and forth until we made the great anxiety-inducing decision to send each other Facebook friend requests. Two requests turned in ten and ten into twenty and then all of a sudden we had a community of friends and photographers all brought together by photography and social media. Then one day, sometime in 2012, we all decided to finally meet. A group was made, plans were put together, and a dear friend and fellow photographer invited us to his family farm in Indiana of all places. One day in July, I packed up my car with a friend and off we went on the fifteen hour drive through cornfields to Indiana, chasing the sun all the way to the farm. When we stepped out of the car that night it felt like we had come home. We were bombarded with hugs and love from so many people we admired and who truly understood us, though we had never met. I always joke in times of stress that my mind always goes back to that perfect week in the Indiana heat, laughing and creating with thirty strangers we met on the Internet, because to us, it was heaven. Shane, Joel and I instantly clicked, and a few months later Shane and I were making plans for a week in Canada with Joel. And that’s when we started planning The Wild Ones tour.
Shane and Joel are like my brothers. We’ve laughed together. We’ve cried together. We’ve picked on each other. We even lived in a van together for two months without killing each other. When I look back at all those who have influenced my life, those two are at the top of the list as constant sources of inspiration to me on the goodness in the world and how I want to live my life.
For those who don’t know, what is the idea behind the Wild Ones and how was it formed?
Established in 2013, The Wild Ones Tour is an annual summer traveling workshop tour and nonprofit organization set up to aid the growth of photographic artists by providing affordable education in both photographic techniques and business consulting, while providing a supportive and ongoing global community. The Wild Ones aim to bring hope and inspiration to those who need it by empowering attendees to use the tools we provide to create stories and use art as a way of coping with life while laying the foundation to live their dreams.
As all things with us, it started as a joke. A “haha we should quit our jobs and travel the entire summer” kind of joke. Until we actually did it. We went into the planning with a mutual love for photography and teaching and the desire to give back as much as we could. So that was how The Wild Ones tour was formed. Nine months of planning later and the generous help of Coca–Cola, Flickr and Vanguard, we were off to take on the world. We traveled over 13,000 miles by van, hosting eight workshops, visiting fifteen major cities and twelve national parks. We knew going into it we didn’t want to make money off this adventure. We wanted to be able to host affordable classes to share our love for our craft while doing as much good in the world as we could. We went home with nothing but our memories, our photos and the joy of meeting so many people along the way. All money was allocated to getting us from city to city, handing out free entry to our workshops, random acts of kindness like big tips to waiters and donations to hungry strangers and even big things like surprising two deserving young photographers from Illinois with an all-expenses paid trip to spend four days in Dallas learning from us.
I started photography in the spring of 2010. I was given my first DSLR for Christmas that year and spent the next few months getting acquainted with the camera settings and local bugs and flowers. Then in June of 2010, which I consider my real photographic birthday, I invested in a tripod and remote, and started taking shy self-portraits using the white walls of my kitchen. They were not anything ground breaking or spectacular, but they laid the foundation for a passion for the craft. Shortly after that, I joined Flickr, started a 365 self-portrait project and haven’t stopped creating since. I was always interested in art. I tried everything and nothing really stuck until I picked up a camera.
Since The Wild Ones is now an annual trip, what does this mean for you? How have you adjusted your life to this?
For me, this means working and saving and planning for nine months out of the year. It means long nights and long hours both at my job and on Wild Ones planning. It means endless hours of overtime at work to save and afford to be out of a job for months at a time. My primary job is not a photographer. To pay the bills I work as an aide in an operating room and an operator in a call center, taking photography clients on the side when I can. And that has become my life. I wish I could say it was easy. But nothing worth it ever is, right? I live my life looking forward to the summer where I can do what I love, live my dream and give back as much as I can. Then I come home, endlessly search for work, and start all over again. But I am so thankful for my life and the opportunities that have presented themselves and I wouldn’t change my experiences or The Wild Ones Tour for anything.
I may sound a bit biased because I am co-hosting the workshops, but they are such a blast! The workshops are a day of creating, storytelling and teaching the basics of concept building. We start off the day introducing ourselves and telling our stories, how we create and how we build our concepts. We always have a nice team-building game to loosen everyone up and break down the nervous barriers we all have. We then go over our props, write down each prop on a piece of paper and have the students choose at random. They are then given the rest of the workshop to do their homework and create a concept based around the prop they chose. Of course, they are not limited to this prop – it’s just a starting place for them to use the concept-building strategies we’ve taught them to create something that speaks to them. We do some instructor shooting, going over how each of us works, how we pose, how to build relationships and trust with your models, and allow the students to shoot along with us. We end with another round of our team building game, go over our thoughts on the day, answer any lingering questions and wrap up the day.
We hope to leave our students with a lasting impression of how and why we do what we do, as well as gather together local photographers in each area as a means of support for all of them. Last year was a bit of a trial run for us; this year will be bigger and far grander than we ever could have imagined, with so many surprises and giveaways in store for our students! Instead of eight workshops, we are projecting about twenty-six, running from July until the middle of October, and we’ve added an optional day of editing and business planning to give our students the best experience possible. We have expanded to Canada, the Midwest and Hawaii, with the hope to start signing students up by the end of April!
You’ve undoubtedly shared a wealth of knowledge in each one of your workshops. But what has this journey given back to you? What have you learned?
I learned a lot about myself and my abilities. Up until four years ago, I was horribly agoraphobic. To the point where I was often afraid to leave the house, afraid to make phone calls, afraid to answer the door. I had daily panic attacks worrying about what was waiting for me outside my front door. Then I found photography and everything changed. It taught me that life wasn’t so scary after all. It gave me a reason to get out of bed every day, to go to the store and get props and to express myself. It brought me to a community of dreamers and a foundation of support that is priceless and immeasurable.
This trip was truly once-in-a-lifetime and a life changer. I was taught the importance of doing good and what my real priorities in life are. It taught me the confidence to pursue my dreams and how tangible they really are with a bit of sacrifice, some luck, and whole heaps of hard work.
Where there days you wanted to go home? What were they like? Any advice for people who want to drop everything and travel, on dealing with the hesitation and worry you may have experienced?
Not one single day. There were days we were exhausted. There were many days we didn’t talk to each other because the south is very hot in August with no air conditioning in our car. There we days of migraines, food poisoning, broken ribs and bruises. But there was not one day where I said I wanted to go home. The road became my home. I fell in love with all the people we met; I enjoyed the company of my best friends, and loved the romanticism of being in a different town in a different state every day. It was fascinating to me, the thought that there were people waking up in towns I never heard of in a time zone I’ve never been, leading strikingly similar lives to my own – and I wanted nothing more than to collect those stories. It helped me feel a bit of a connection to humanity. The world is a beautiful place and I feel very lucky that we were able to take the time to explore it.
As for advice, I would say just go for it! Save your money, take the time and just do it. You won’t regret it. Travel changes you in a way you’d never expect. I left the trip with a confidence I never knew had with a consideration for the real priorities in life. I don’t necessarily recommend quitting your job and just going. But if the opportunity presents itself, I wouldn’t say no. I have never been more afraid than the day I told my job of six years that I was leaving. I certainly got a lot of questioning for it, but to be fair, I would question too. Here I was, twenty-six years old with dreams and idealizations of giving back to a community that has supported us so much, of hosting workshops around the country and living in a van for two months with a couple of boys I met on the internet. We were a nonprofit and I had no backup plan or promises of work when I got back and no means to pay the bills. But we did it. We lived to tell about it. And here we are on the cusp of setting out on another, longer tour, and not regretting a single day since.
Can you share a story about the best parts of your trip?
I certainly hate to give the generic “all of it” answer, but truly, every moment was unique and beautiful. I could tell you about the thunderstorm we got caught in when we stopped at Monumental Valley and how the fog and steam rose from the desert. I could tell you about how we slept in the van one night where the redwoods met the ocean and how we woke up surrounded by wild elk. I could tell you of the night we slept out under the stars in Yosemite and woke up to the most beautiful sunrise we’ve ever seen over Half Dome or the white sands of New Mexico or the time we got lost searching all over San Francisco for a Banksy that was already painted over. I could tell you about the street music in the French Quarter of New Orleans or how we went bridge jumping in Oregon.
But if I had to sum it up, the part that was most satisfying to me was to see Shane’s face as he was out timelapsing and enjoying the nature he is truly passionate about, and to see the look of joy in Joel’s eyes as he is teaching and doing what he loves. And most of all, to have something we worked so hard for turn into this ongoing community supported by so many people who believe in us and our mission. We still receive emails from students saying how much of a difference we’ve made in their lives. How we’ve taught them confidence and the ability to work hard and go after their dreams. That human connection is what truly warms my heart and makes everything so unbelievably worth it.
This post is brought to you by VANGUARD®, a proud sponsor of The Wild Ones. VANGUARD is a global manufacturer of tripods, camera bags and cases, shooting sticks, gun/bow cases, binoculars and spotting scopes with first-of-its-kind features and capabilities.With 26 years of expertise, these innovative products are highlighted around the world.
Sarah Ann Loreth does not take photographs; she creates them from scenes she pulls from deep within herself. Sarah is a fine art photographer from New Hampshire, who specializes in self-portraiture and conceptual portraiture. In her work she tries to convey a quiet stillness of emotion with a connection to her natural surroundings. From her use of color and surreality she creates a reality found only in her imagination but with an emotion that is undeniably human. She explores the divide between darkness and light, unafraid to explore themes that others may find uncomfortable. Her work evokes a connection from the viewer, a feeling of oneness of the human experience and a mystery that will leave you wondering how the story will unfold.
Established in 2013, The Wild Ones, Inc. is an annual summer traveling workshop tour and nonprofit organization set up to aide in the growth of photographic artists by providing affordable education in both photographic techniques and business consulting while providing a supportive and ongoing global community. The Wild Ones aim to bring hope and inspiration to those in need by empowering attendees to use the tools we provide to create stories and use art as a way of coping with life while laying the foundation to live their dreams.