Roaming is central to photographer Macaulay Lerman’s way of understanding the world and his place in it. He speaks of the “endless hours spent reading The Lord of the Rings and gallivanting off on epic quests of my own in the woods behind my family’s home” as a child, and, later, how he “began travelling in slowly expanding circles away from New England.” Having spent much of his young adult life hitchhiking, driving in vans and riding freight trains across Canada and the US armed with a journal, his current photographic practice continues to draw on his capacity for documentation and storytelling, for the tracing of a journey through narrative.
Macaulay completed a BFA in Photography and Documentary Studies at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont. His commissioned work, which has focused on communities like the young farmers in Rutland County Vermont and Bhutanese refugee artists, revolves around ethnographic investigation into small and fringe groups of people with the hope of preserving their ways of living.
Speaking of his time as part of a restless nomadic community, whose members drifted in and out of range with the exception of his constant companion, Nate, Macaulay says: “We circled the country in a $500 van I had purchased from an Alpaca farmer the week before. We busked for our money, ate out of grocery store dumpsters, and for a few years at least successfully evaded time.”
Although he now resides in Burlington Vermont, Macaulay’s ongoing series, Greer Road, revisits his life as a travelling nomad, and the people who shaped his journey. Where his youth, however, followed a trajectory of endless forward motion, Greer Road unfolds in a place of relative stillness – a small coastal settlement in Alaska that is home to a community of retired nomads, established three years ago by Nate.
As Macaulay tells it: “Nate took a job on a fishing boat in coastal Alaska, and I moved to Vermont to attend a small liberal arts college. In the summer of 2016, Nate lost his pinky finger in an accident while out on a three-month fishing contract. To avoid a lawsuit he was offered a large cash settlement in addition to his pay for the three-month voyage. With nearly $100,000 in hand, Nate bought five acres of land in Fritz Creek AK and began building a small homestead. Through word of mouth, this story spread throughout the nomadic punk community and soon others came to Fritz Creek with similar pursuits in mind.”
There is an incontrovertible sense of weariness that pervades Macaulay’s Greer Road. The people in his portraits carry the fatigue of days and nights of restless wandering – in their expressions, their scars, their clothes, the lines of ink marking their skin – while the boats and vehicles that carried them from place to place for so long slump where they have been left. It is Macaulay’s portraits that are the most arresting, each a homage to the undeniable singularity of each individual’s identity and experiences. Nate’s weathered hand, Turtle’s penetrating gaze and tattered jumper, Daniel Cornelius’s missing eye and defiant upturned chin, the bond between Gloria and her dog – all these Macaulay captures and preserves with a piercing sincerity.
And yet there is also a peacefulness in the hazy blueish-grey light that filters through the images. For all their exhaustion, the subjects in Greer Road have discovered a kind of purchase and sense of belonging, an endurance of being in relation to a place, beyond the liminality of their nomadic lives. In Macaulay’s words: “If there is a common thread between travellers of this nature, it is the disbelief that you could ever truly belong in this world. That there is nowhere for you to go and so you must learn to live between things. This is simply not true. There is a place amidst the white spruce and Pacific yew where in the summer months the alpenglow suspends and it is always almost morning. There is a place past the spit up on Greer Road where the paved road ends and the fireweed takes root; thriving, becoming.”