It is well known that there is an affordable housing problem in Jackson Hole, the fact has been addressed by many, but there are discrepancies about how to solve the problem. It is a systemic issue whose repercussions that affect everyone who lives and works there. While Jackson has a reputation for being affluent, that does not reflect the economic reality for many of the average workers.
The labor force in Jackson is largely seasonal workers who only stay for a short period of time or middle-class families that work year-round and struggle to make enough to stay where they are. Because of the inflated housing costs, when someone finds a place to live, they do not readily let it go exacerbating the problem.
Young people who want to live in Jackson often must choose between having a place to stay and saving money. Faced with this decision some of Jackson’s seasonal workforce decides to live out of vehicles. If people did not choose this lifestyle much of the tourist industry would simply not have enough employees to function.
The focus of this project is to shed light on what everyday life is like for these individuals and explore the culture that has developed amidst this underrated labor force. Photography has a way of garnering closer attention to issues that are easy to ignore. A lot of people in Jackson don’t pay much attention to this issue if it is discussed, it is often just dismissed as something that’s always been around or passed off as fun for the car campers. However, the situation affects many employers, the quality of visitor experience, and the overall sense of fairness and equality in general. Imagine waking up at 5am in the bed of a truck, putting on a uniform and going to work as a bellman at the Four Seasons.
One could speculate on the various reasons why people are choosing to live this way, but the one easy answer – that they just want to be in Jackson Hole – does not really capture the larger trend that is taking place. Just like in the late 60s and early 70s with the “Back to the Earth” movement that expanded public interest in the national parks, the younger generation is rebelling against what is seen as a untrustworthy government and rediscovering the simplicity and beauty of the outdoors. However, instead of being inspired by authors like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, today’s movement is being perpetuated by a romanticization of the outdoors portrayed on social media and through popular culture in ways that are routinely visible to youth.
Each picture in this exhibit exemplifies an element of living out of a vehicle and explores the little things that are indicative of the community of car-campers and their shared experiences.
This is a picture of the road that everyone must use to get to the Curtis Canyon Campgrounds. Because it is the closest campground to town it is overwhelmingly preferred because of the short commute. This photo was taken at the time of day when most people head into the woods to locate their campsite for the night though car-campers are not the only ones using the area. Because it is in National Forrest, it is also a popular recreation area used by locals and tourist alike for sports shooting, hunting, paragliding, and riding ATVs. The traffic on this road can get frequent and each car that drives by kicks up a large cloud of dust that can be seen from across the valley. Dirty cars were a common theme amongst the people.
This was taken on a cool night in May at the Cutis Canyon campground, where these gentlemen where staying for the night. After driving to the campsites late at night I was not expecting to see anyone still awake upon reaching the top of the hill I saw these guys sitting around a fire and playing music from a small portable speaker. Being that it was a Tuesday night and no tents were pitched in their site, I figured that they must be staying in their vehicles. I stopped and walked up to the camp, it was late and they were on edge when I pulled into their area but after introducing myself and explaining my project agreed to let me take pictures. The moon had not yet risen and the stars were bright and clearly visible above them. Everyone in this picture lives in their vehicles and works seasonal jobs in Jackson Hole. The atmosphere was friendly it was clear that these individuals camped together on a regular basis and where quite comfortable in their minimalistic accommodations.
There is no doubt of the fact that what attracts people to Jackson Hole is the natural beauty and accessibility of nature. In many ways, this lifestyle is a way of immersing oneself in the environment and for those who seek that immersion, living out of a car in Jackson Hole is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Even though there are a surprising amount of people who use the forest every day during the summer, people who are living out of their car spend a lot of time alone in the woods. For some I talked to that was exactly what they were looking for, and for others, it was one of the hardest parts of the summer. Aside from the big groups that I would encounter there were a lot of people who preferred to be alone.
This is a picture of one of my favorite spots to camp while I was covering this area throughout the summer.
Aside from all the challenges that come along with living out of a vehicle, there are some who prefer to live this lifestyle while the weather nice and it is possible. This couple, Tony Krusenbaum and Hannah Koipu, moved to Jackson from Colorado thinking that they were going to be able to take their time finding a place to live, they initially were worried about the logistical challenges of only having one vehicle. After finding their routine they found themselves enjoying their van more and more, and decided to forgo the housing search until the weather began to get too cold to bare.
Taken in August during the last few weeks of the summer, everyone here was formulating their plans for the end of the season. Though they talked highly of the experience they had throughout the summer, I got the impression that the idea of moving back into a home was a welcomed one.
This was a typical sight to see in the National Forests around Jackson I ran into several large groups of people who often worked together during the day and would camp together throughout the summer. Often, they were all from the same town and came to Jackson to work, some have been doing it for several years in a row. Through word of mouth more people are attracted to the opportunity and join their friends the following year, that is how this group had gotten so large.
In this picture Laura Macchiavello and Matt Ross have just finished preparing their meal for the night, chicken fajitas. In a group effort everyone who was camping with them had contributed in some way and the food was shared between everyone.
Preparing meals is another challenging aspect of living out a of a vehicle, and making good food with minimal cook ware is an art form. Food was something that I talked to people a lot about, preparation and planning were key to eating good meals. Without refrigeration storing food is something that is not easy and without running water dishes become a burden. Though like the vehicles themselves, each person’s methods were a little bit different. Some avoided the trouble altogether by eating out a majority of the time, others who enjoyed cooking, made almost every meal at their camp sites.
This truck belonged to Matt Ross who had moved to Jackson for the summer from Bozeman Montana where he goes to school, he said that his truck is not normally so messy but a busy few days had left him with little time to clean and organize.
Often one of the first things people want to talk about was how they had set up their vehicles. Everyone had a different method and were excited to share what they had done to make the space livable. Because of the limited space being deliberate was important but each set up was unique and personalized.
Ryan and Abigail Castillo commute from the nearby city of Rexburg Idaho to work for a gardening company based in Jackson. They stay for the entire week and then drive home for the weekend. They do this along with Ryan’s two brothers, little sister, and a family friend who all stay in their own vehicles. They told me that wages in Jackson are so much better than in Rexburg that it makes the hour and half drive and the trouble of living out of van worth their while. They have been doing this for almost 4 years and plan to continue until they both have paid their way through college.