an exploration of urban identity in the middle of Texas
There’s a synchronicity between thumb’s-up sign as “it’s all good,” and also “I’m all good. Invite me into your car.”
I hitchhiked Austin for three days. Most of it spent standing on the road side; a tall, unlikely blond girl in a fur-hooded arctic parka, blowing periodically on her thumb to warm it up. Cars passed, and many stopped, and of course they always asked where I was headed: “I don’t have a destination.” “I’ll go where you’re going.” And then the clincher: “and I’d like to take your photo.”
I was always aware of my privileges as a white girl doing this. In Austin, especially compared to Canada, elements of subtle (and not-so-subtle) racism are woven into the city’s history. So when some (assumedly undocumented) Latino workers hid their face from me when I brought out my camera, I respectfully dropped it, apologized, and walked away. I noticed those of a similar demographic to me (young, white), were more likely to pick me up, and that most of the people who gave me lifts were either students, artists, musicians, or worked in the non-profit field. But all the cars were incredibly different: I stepped into cars with nuns, dirty cars, family cars, cars where drugs and beer were being passed around (and offered). After the first half day, I ditched the big D700 at home… the shutter noise and bulk of the camera seeming intrusive in such an intimate space, so all the accompanying photos here are from my iPhone 5S.
This project was started as an assignment for the Magnum Photography Workshop. Thanks to David Alan Harvey for being so enthusiastically encouraging.
Photographer Olivia Vale calls Austin home, but has grown up all over the world. She is a citizen of the UK and Canada. Her images have a sociological emphasis, and she shoots with an eye that aims to render the everyday magical. As well as documenting life and culture, she’s an award-winning documentary wedding photographer in Austin. Her work can be seen here and here.