The past few weeks at my work, Austin Walsh Studio, our studio producer Katy Raggett has been telling us stories about her brother, Tyler, who just came back stateside after spending two years in Rwanda in the Peace Corps. While Tyler’s been back he started a plan to obtain a vehicle in which he can essentially call home base while trekking around the nation at will. Well, he found that car and he made his way towards Kansas City. I knew I had to photograph this thing.
My name is Tyler Hagan, welcome to my 1991 Toyota Previa.
AKA the Golden Egg. A real bubbly minivan from everyone’s childhood memories. When sitting inside it is very reminiscent of the interior of an airplane, cockpit and all, and it completely reminded me why I use to spend countless hours playing spaceman in my mom’s already old ass van. Tons of round and futuristic looking shapes that make the dash and a gigantic window with an extra tall vantage point to view the world in front of you.
The Golden Egg had a lot of love. Paint was fading, emblems had fallen, chips in the hood from rocks, marks all over the body panels, and yet not a single spot of heavy rust that I was aware of. This van, as worn as it was, was obviously very cared for and looked after. Each bump, each fade, each stain, each scratch, was made from nothing more than use and love. These weren’t bruises of neglect. These were wrinkles from years of smiles, emotions, and adventure.
The van’s emblems were gone but the paint around it was so faded that it didn’t need the emblems anymore. The paint under the make and model indicators were preserved to the point of just baked emblems and the “Toyota Previa” could be read as if they were never gone in the first place.
Dude, how did this even come to be?
Tyler told me the story of how the Golden Egg came to be. The previous owner was his younger sister’s father-in-law’s van. This gentleman bought the vehicle when it was brand new in 1991. It was used for the purpose of adventure and put into good use during family vacations and explorations. This man ended up using and caring for this van for roughly 24 years.
The owner of the car inevitably let it sit near the end of his ownership. He didn’t simply want to just get rid of it. He couldn’t. There was a lot of value, time, and emotion invested in this vehicle that would never match up to any dollar amount. Experiences that ultimately represented his life and where he’d gone. It’s no different than a person holding on to a blanket from their childhood or a watch gifted from a grandfather. These things transcend simple market values and enter into a world of life worth and sentimental significance.
When the owner heard that his fellow kin was searching for adventure, he called up Tyler and asked if he was interested. And indeed he was. Tyler told me that when it came time for the owner to part ways with the van, the owner teared up. The owner said his goodbyes and gave the van to Tyler. Tyler then became the second owner of the van. Ever. At no cost other than to extend the story the owner didn’t want to stop writing.
Cars are funny like that.
It’s not as simple as seats and a steering wheel. They’re representations of us. Where we’re going. Where we’ve gone. Whether we are intentionally writing those stories or not, our cars are taking us somewhere and what we do with them and to them will always leave its mark permanently into its structure. Whether we give a shit about cars or not, our care, our neglect, our relationships with our cars become painfully obvious years down the road.
The biggest and most objective of those translations is our odometer. The tracker of how long our adventure has been. The miles we’ve written out. And the Golden Egg? The Golden Egg had a fuck ton of them.
326k miles and counting.
Tyler was given the car to him with 322,000 miles on it. And in the three weeks or so he’s owned it he’s put another 4,000 miles on it.
SLAMMIN’ GEARS, YO!
On top of the mind boggling mileage, this thing was also a five speed. I’m not too familiar with vans from the 90’s in general, but he fact that this van even had the option to be a 5 speed manual transmission is a rarity to me and just added that extra uniqueness.
If you are a fan of baseball then you know that the Kansas City Royals were in the world series (which they won!) When we did this shoot it was the same day as game 4 of the World Series. This meant that both of us were going to be watching the game which would play during golden hour, the ideal time for any photoshoot. When we realized that this could be THE World Series game Kansas City hasn’t had since 1985 we knew we couldn’t shoot when we originally planned.
So we moved the perfect ideal shoot time of sunset and golden light perfection and shifted it to the “worst possible time to shoot” to the harshness of 1pm in the afternoon. I had roughly one hour from start to finish on the shoot before Tyler and his crew had to leave and reserve seats to watch the game later that day.
Shitty light. Little time. GO Royals!
To my surprise however, the harshness of the sun was a nice change of pace. It really forced me to really pay attention to light and shadows much differently and forced me to use the harsh qualities it had to offer rather than just avoiding it altogether like I normally do. Can’t always fall back on the awesomeness of a setting sun I suppose.
Working in this kind of quality of light is extremely tricky when it is your key light, at least for me. It has extremes of super dark shadows and extra hot and blown out highlights. There’s really no comfortable middle ground and a more difficult exposure to figure out. Extra challenging and frustrating no doubt.
It was easier to make shitty photographs than good ones.
And as rough as it was, I’m glad that I stuck to my guns and just tried to make the best of the situation.
Tyler orginally picked the van up in New Mexico. From there he drove to Butte, Montana where he met up with an old college buddy of his where they started the modification process by crafting pieces themselves for life on the road.
In those modifications was the essential bed with storage underneath.
On the other side of the bed was a little shelf. In this shelf was a water jug hooked up to a pump to act as a sink/source for water.
Next to that sink a propane powered stovetop to cook eggs and underneath all of that was a storage compartment full of plates and cast iron skillets. Tyler had also installed metal snaps to put curtains over the windows when he needed privacy. For now that’s how the van sits. Only time will tell when new additions will need to be made after some experience out on the road.
Navigation sans digital.
Tyler is O.G. he navigates with a map and may google a location or two, but somehow, I highly doubt it.
Tyler and I talked a bit about the idea of living completely out of your vehicle out of choice. What I think is that you become liberated. You’re free to go as you please whether its a few blocks or a few states. It’s this insane idea of realizing that there are these questions that everyone is faced with of “Who are you?” and “What are you looking for in life?” and realizing that you have no idea in the slightest, but you know you’re working on it, and you haven’t found it yet, so why stay stagnate? I’m not finding myself here. I’m not finding what I’m looking for here. The only real way to figure out the answers to those questions is to to go out there and look for it.
And that’s what getting out helps us do. We travel. We leave. We keep moving. Seeking. Because what we’re feeling here is tied down by some external source. Truly knowing that you can go anywhere at anytime makes us able to dive inward and figure ourselves out. When we are away from what we are comfortable with our choices start feeling like they are actually our choices we make for ourselves. We start reacting on instinct and intrigue rather than being held back by certain constraints of reason according to the barriers of general “normal” ideals that make us play it safe or hold back the pure versions of ourselves.
We are no longer tied down and now more than ever we have to build sanction within ourselves, not a home, not the idea of responsible or irresponsible. We escape and by doing so we break out of whatever shell we’ve created a truly and freely express ourselves, to ourselves, for ourselves.
Here’s to me over analyzing the shit out a van and life with mobility.
Here’s to seeking adventure.
Here’s to seeking life.
Here’s to seeking purpose.
Here’s to the Royals.