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It doesn’t take much to live a happy life. Inspired by the novel Nomadland, Tim Eastman travelled around the United States to meet workampers (a mix of work and camper), many of whom did not approve of Nomadland, feeling that the novel portrayed workamping in a negative light. In his newest photo book, All the Past We Leave Behind, published by Kehrer Verlag, Eastman displays this nomadic lifestyle in a true light having “developed interviewing techniques to help ferret out the deeper and more complicated truth.”

He brings a very personal touch and caring approach to showcasing the workamper living environment. Tune in to All the Past We Leave Behind to experience the nomadic lifestyle and learn the “more complicated truth” about what it means to be a workamper. Eastman speaks on his experiences meeting nomads across the country in this intriguing, down-to-earth chat.

Thank you for spending the time to speak with me about your upcoming photo book, All the Past We Leave Behind. You must’ve gone to a bunch of different places! Where in the US did you travel?
I travelled all over the US- I visited the Southeast, South, Southwest, Midwest, and Northeast. To save on costs I would restrict each trip to one particular region, focusing on people who were currently located there.
After many places, what was your favourite location you visited? Any reason that makes it so special?
I think I liked the Southwest the most - mainly because of the weather and the scenery. I saw beautiful scenery all over, but the Southwest I just found particularly appealing.
The photos and interviews you captured were done between 2017 and 2019. During the time, the country was very rocky in terms of politics. As a stranger with a camera, how do you go on about reaching out to people and taking pictures of them? What were your relationships like?
I made most of my contacts through Facebook - there are several large workamper Facebook groups. I started by posting notices in those groups about my project and said that I was looking for people to include. I later enlisted the help of a workamper who would post in the group on my behalf, which I think gave me an additional measure of credibility. Many people responded positively and were friendly. A few were suspicious, wondering if I was going to paint them in a negative light, or if I was just some kind of con man. We didn’t really get into politics, so that wasn’t an obstacle.


Over three years, you came across people of all walks of life: families, solo travellers, couples, etc. What kind of demographics and commonalities did you experience? And I’m curious, where did they fall on the political spectrum?
We didn’t talk about politics, really. I was interested in it but intentionally avoided the subject as I thought it might create barriers in our communication. Some people volunteered their political beliefs, though, and what I found was that they came from all across the political spectrum; there was no real common set of beliefs.
What do the daily lives of these individuals look like? How do they go on about their days?
They live pretty normally - get up, go to work, come home. Sometimes they have days off. Pretty normal lives, just that the home they live in is usually an RV or a van and the jobs are temporary and geographically spread.
Since we’re kids, we've been sold the dream of getting married, having kids and, more specially, having a house to live with them. After getting to know them, why do people in general and families in particular decide to live nomadically?
A number of the people I met mentioned this exact thing as a frame-of-mind they’ve had to divorce themselves from. Some referred to it as a form of quote unquote programming. I think that’s a struggle sometimes for workampers, to redefine their idea of a successful life from what mainstream society has taught them it should be.
I met people who started living nomadically for all sorts of reasons, and I don’t think any could be boiled down to just one reason either. Economic hardship often plays a role, and so do things like a desire to be freed from mainstream life or a desire to travel. Sometimes the people I met could have feasibly continued in their more traditional lives, but nomadic living freed them from an oppressive work schedule or an almost-unmanageable cost-of-living. Families sometimes cited a lack of time spent together as a motivation for switching to a nomadic life.


As a NYC-based photographer, you are constantly surrounded by the urban, lively feel of the city. This is a huge contrast to the rural, nomadic lifestyle you portray in the photo book. What are some of the things that surprised or even shocked you the most while working on this project?
I was really amazed at, and impressed by, how little money some of the people I met were able to get by on. One woman I interviewed told me she had made under $8,000 for the entirety of the previous year. She had worked jobs that provided her with a site for her RV and gas and electric hookups, but even so it really isn’t a lot of money. However, she was not someone you would look at and say they seemed to be suffering any great deprivation.
What were some of the main tensions in your interactions with these individuals? Furthermore, what were popular topics of discussion?
Many of the people I met didn’t like the book Nomadland and didn’t like a lot of the press coverage that workamping had received. They felt workamping had been depicted in too negative a light, as a life of desperation and deprivation. Because of this, some of the people I met had lengthy defences of workamping, which cast it in glowing terms and which often felt rehearsed. I don’t think they were being dishonest, exactly, but they definitely had an agenda. I found myself having to wade through that often, so I developed interviewing techniques to help me ferret out the deeper and more complicated truth. This was a frequent source of frustration.
One popular topic of discussion was the variety of people one meets while living nomadically. Another one was that people often liked to point out the flexibility of their lifestyle, boasting that when they encountered any circumstances they didn’t like, they could easily pick up and move on to somewhere else.
I understand that this photo book was inspired by the 2017 novel Nomadland, which was later made into a film that won several awards including Oscars, BAFTAs, and Golden Globes. Your compiling of the photo book happened around the same time as the film was probably being filmed. What parallels do you notice between your photo book and the film?
I think my book and the film both show the aspirations of many workampers, as well as an honest look at the realities of the lives they live. Obviously many people are motivated by economic factors to move into this way of life, but that isn’t the whole story. People I interviewed also often craved a sense of freedom and a liberation from some of the constraints of a more traditional life, which I think the film shows as well.


How do you define the idea of home? How did its meaning change after this project?
I think home is where you live, wherever that is. I can’t say the project really changed that definition for me.
Are you still in contact with the individuals you interviewed and photographed?
I was most recently in contact with the people featured in the book shortly after it came out, when I sent them copies. I’ve kept in sporadic touch with a few of the people I met.
After witnessing and even experiencing this way of life, what would you say is the best and the worst aspect of a nomadic lifestyle?

That’s a hard question, because everyone I met probably has a different answer. I think the hardest thing for me would probably be the lack of a stable, long-term, in-person community. Many workampers will make friends while working a job, only to have to leave. Because of the internet, and especially Facebook, they can easily stay in touch, but there’s a big difference between seeing someone regularly in person and just communicating long-distance. The thing I think I’d like most is the other side of that coin, which is the variety of people you meet while workamping. Also, there’s always the possibility you’ll see someone again, if you return to the same job the following year, or you meet somewhere on the road.


Words
Zach Lee
All photography copyright Tim Eastman from the book "All The Past We Left Behind" published by Kehrer Verlag

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