“Everyone’s story is different,” Michael Joseph says. “But they’re all searching for the same things – an escape from a prescribed life society has set out for them. They’re searching for freedom.” In this collection, three photographers take us behind the scenes in the Traveler subculture. In the process, they reveal a community of people on the go, catching rides wherever they can, by freight train or by car, living by their own set of rules.
“I have nothing, but I have everything at the same time,” a Traveler once told the photographer Michael Joseph.
For most of us, the world rushes past in a blur, but for Travelers, time slows down. “If you engage a Traveler in conversation,” the photographer says, “They will open up to you. They have time for you. And that’s rare today, when people hide behind screens and don’t look each other in the eye.”
“I’m not homeless. I might be houseless, but these freight trains are my home,” a man named Mark confided in photographer Nicholas Syracuse, who has for twenty years been recording the histories of those who, like Mark, have left behind the comforts of mainstream life for the freedom of the railway.
Mark, who nicknames himself “Shoestring” after the hero of a Mel McDaniel song, has been traveling for decades. He writes his name on freight trains and can tell the age of a tortoise just by looking at his shell. The lifestyle is in his DNA: “It’s who I am.” Some travelers, Syracuse has learned, choose the tracks; for others, it’s not a choice. The road chooses them.
Members of a subculture called the Dirty Kids, who move throughout the country by train, before settling around San Francisco, opened up to Matt Mimiaga as part of this story in California Sunday.
The Dirty Kids, or Crusty Kids, as they sometimes identify, are a close-knit group. Some of them ran away from home at an early age to escape the cycles of poverty or abuse, but others, like Saydee, chose the life because of the freedom it affords. They are continuously on the move, dispersing throughout the country and reuniting once more in the Haight.
“What draws me to the Travelers is their ability to see beyond cultural norms,” Michael Joseph tells us. Lost and Found, his ongoing project about people who live on the go, exploring the United States, has continued for more than a decade. “It started with meeting a random stranger, then learning about the subculture, to becoming mentally engrossed in the subculture and then full-on documentation through portraiture,” he remembers.