The Wanderlust Files / An interview with photographer Sedrick Miles

{ exclusive feature}

Sedrick Miles did what most people would love to do: he quit his job and traveled the world for a year with a camera and an open heart. This was not a whim. This was not a luxurious adventure bankrolled by a wealthy parent. Miles sold most of his belongings, intensely researched, then set sail. On a shoe string budget and the goodwill of people he met along the way, he traveled through Latin America, Europe, and Africa. Between insomniac nights on couches and early morning runs to find mangos, he captured moments that transcend words. His tumblr was one of the first things I'd read in the morning. Miles' photos are cinematic and for me trigger a nostalgia for my days living in South Africa. In our interview, Miles shares what compelled him to cross borders and seek narratives far away from his small South Carolina town.

Liberator Magazine: "Where in the world is Sedrick Miles?" which reminded me of "Where in the world is Carmen San Diego?". I was intrigued by your journey at a spiritual level first. My appreciation of your work from a photographic stance was secondary. Can you describe what triggered your journey? What do you hope people learn from the Wanderlust Project? Sedrick Miles: I was motivated in several ways. I have always been a very curious person. Traveling and getting lost in the world has always motivated me to make the most of life. I've done lot of traveling around my own country, but like many people, I've often said to myself "One day, I want to travel the world." I even had a bucket list of places I wanted to visit. After a series of stressful life events I could think of nothing else except checking off the places on that list and moving on to accomplish more long awaited goals. I began researching independent travel and at the same time becoming very concerned with access to authentic cultural images, especially those depicting the African diaspora. I began to find many of the underlying reasons why travel is perceived as such an inaccessible luxury to folks from certain backgrounds and a very wonted experience for others. Through photography, the Wanderlust project is meant to promote the idea of global citizenship and make it a very normal concept for people of all backgrounds. Liberatormag: When I was a young, I was fascinated with time travel and flying. In particular, Virginia Hamilton's "The People Could Fly" awakened me to this idea that we could go anywhere if we conjured up the courage and conviction. Where have you journeyed to so far? What has been your most beloved location and why? Least favorite? SM: Yes! I have always loved the same things. That book and the images from it are beautiful and in many ways represent an Afrofuturistic view that I fully support. So far this year I have traveled throughout Mexico, Salvador Bahia, Brasil, France, Spain, Portugal, England, Holland, Germany, Italy, Senegal, and The Gambia. It's difficult to pick one favorite place, but Dakar, Bahia, and Paris are all places I could imagine living for a long time. Bahia is a physical paradise and the culture is irresistibly inviting. I broke my camera in Bahia and was unable to do an serious photo work while there. But after mourning the loss of my camera, I quickly learned how to appreciate the opportunity to travel to a country with such a rich culture. I've spent most of the summer in Dakar working on several photo projects. My visit to Africa was the most anticipated and has probably had the most effect on me as an artist. The worst treatment I've received on this trip was in Italy (Rome, Milan, and Naples). I don't plan on returning anytime soon. Liberatormag: I lived for a year in South Africa and didn't feel the nag of homesickness until the third month. How do you deal with being homesick? SM: I've always been very nomadic, so even in the States, I have many places that I consider home, and just as many sets of friends and family. The internet has been critical in helping me stay in contact and remedy the homesickness that comes along with long term travel. Some intentional and not-so-intentional communities online have really help me to grow and contribute to what's happening back home while I am abroad. Liberatormag: Can you describe the first time you picked up a camera? How old were you? Where were you? What was the first photograph you took? SM: I'm sure I've taken lots of Polaroids with my parents camera's and I even remember owning a little 110 film camera when I was very young. But the clearest memory was when I joined the journalism club in high school. The first time I borrowed my coaches's 35 mm AE-1 to photograph some scenes around school, I spend the whole day filming. I was excited about each frame and couldn't wait to develop them. I was so embarrassed when we opened the camera in the darkroom and found out that the film had not been put in correctly and I'd not one of my shots had been exposed. After learning how to properly load a camera, I photographed my first roll that Friday during school and after at the football game. One of the photos that came out well was of the coach motivating a player on the sideline. It was well lit from the stadium lights and I remember an intense look in the coache's eyes- like a father talking to his son. I really loved the photo and found it even more exciting then the images of the players in the game. It was later used in the school newspaper. After that I was hooked. Liberatormag: Many of your photographs are paired with a short narrative. Many photographers pride themselves on being image-makers and less so on the written world. For you, what does the text element add? SM: Over the past few years I've enjoyed learning to better express myself through images, but while traveling I feel it's important not to sacrifice context and educational opportunities. If someone loves my photos, I hope that they will take any information included to google and find out more about the place, people or events in the image. Liberatormag: I had a chance to click through your early photographs on your blog. There are some stunning studio portraits before your departure. There is this portrait of someone named "Cliff". It's absolutely beautiful. What is the story behind this image? SM: I was commissioned to photograph a special weekend celebration of a group of old childhood friends in North Carolina. They grew up together but adult life had begun to move them in different directions. They met occasionally at each others weddings, but this reunion was different. One of the more ambitious cats in the group, a computer engineer, contacted me and said he wanted professional photography of his crew's last time together before one of them, Cliff was deployed to Iraq. I met the group at a house they rented in North Myrtle Beach, near my hometown in South Carolina. From the moment I met the group, I knew that weekend would be interesting. To make a long story short, the weekend was filled with shenanigans that I was happy to photograph. To the impossibly repetitive Rick Ross soundtrack, I documented three nights of clubbing, drinking, confessing, the popping of a bottle, and event of the extradition of one well meaning but unlucky warranted guy back to Fulton County, Georgia officials. On the morning of the departure, I found the friends in a quiet moment on the back porch overlooking the ocean. I asked them to pose for individual portraits while we had the early morning light. I hung a black velvet backdrop up and photographed all the guys starting with Cliff. The vibe was very reflective that morning. As they talked about the crazy weekend and how their squad had been through so much together, I had the opportunity to capture the true personality of each guy. Cliff's was one of my favorite photos. My brother was also in Iraq at the time, so I could relate to the feelings surrounding him. Liberatormag: In reading some background information, you describe how you grew up in a small South Carolina town of less than 9,000 people and at one point attended elementary school in Alaska. Can you discuss a bit more about your upbringing? SM: Sure. Although I was born in a small beach-traffic town in South Carolina, because my family was military I split my time growing up between Alaska and South Carolina. The latter years were spent in the South, so in most ways I was a typical Southern boy. I was the oldest of three and very independent. I began working at 12 years old. I loved hip-hop, basketball, and comic books. I also loved magazines. My mother and grandmother would always bring old magazines for me to peel through. I've always been an information addict and the combination of words and photos kept me busy for hours. Liberatormag: Before you embarked on this journey, what were you doing? You wrote, "first job ever was picking tobacco in Bennettsville, SC. My second job was washing cars at a used dealership. My third job as a youth development worker has defined my life for the past 20 years." What in particular about youth development work makes you excited? In thinking about your Wanderlust Project, are there any plans to integrate youth in your future journeys? SM: I've done national community education work and organizing since a teen, working almost every position in non-profit youth development. A lack of excitement about it during the final years is what motivated me towards a career change. The two years before my journey I worked as director for a local community media station in North Carolina. I gained a great appreciation for independent media and worked diligently to provide access to more of it as well as to teach methods of empowerment through media. One idea that stood out to me over the years was the educational potential of images and other visual media when working with communities typically exploited by big media. When I return, along with continuing media literacy education projects, I am also developing world travel initiatives for youth from non-privileged backgrounds. I believe that international travel and cultural exchange before college or even high school can create some very positive effects on decision making, study skills, self and community awareness. Liberatormag: What's next for you? SM: I want to continue growing as a photographer in the areas of fine art, documentary, photojournalism. I'll be back in the states this Fall. Over the next year I will be expanding my international portfolio as well as developing youth programming in photography and travel under The Wanderlust Project. I'm also developing a collective to support art photographers who create from humanistic perspectives. This support is missing today as photography is very mainstream and the overwhelming majority of images available are capitalistic in their message and usage. We're a human development centered cooperative, producing in part through the generous and faithful contributions of our North Star members. Choose your membership: Annual ($36), Monthly ($3), ($5), ($10), ($15), ($30), ($70), ($200), ($500), ($1000).