A local resident’s photography project is taking him cross country, living out of a van fixed with its own kitchen, bed and work desk, destinations plotted out with plenty of room for side trips and adventure.
Kyle Lang, born and raised in Hamilton, knew photography would be a big part of his life from an early age. From the time he received his first camera as a birthday present to his current analogue photography project “Manifest Content.”
“From literally the first day that I got my camera I went out and took pictures of wildlife, frogs and bugs and stuff like that when I was like 13, 14 years old,” he said.
Landscape, nature and the outdoors still hold Lang’s artistic interest.
The Mercer County Community College student’s trip is funded through the Thomas George Artists Fund. The grant money allowed him to purchase his Ford Econoline E150 van, specifically designed for camping, and more than 100 rolls of film.
Lang has about seven different film cameras packed for this trip with several film formats to achieve a variety of shots. Lang does not use digital cameras in his work, preferring to use only film.
The inspiration behind “Manifest Content” comes from Lang wanting to do a dream-related, surrealist project. He wanted to pursue the project, even before learning that he had been awarded the grant money for it.
“Even past the grant, I still want to continue to work on this and see it all the way through,” he said.
In a dream, the manifest content is the images that are seen, while the latent content is the meaning behind those images, Lang explained.
He has always experienced vivid dreams since he was young. For this project he did his research—reading papers on dreams in ancient civilizations, what early man interpreted dreams to mean and Sigmund Freud’s dream studies.
To achieve this dream-like product, Lang plans to utilize a method of overlaying photos of nature and landscapes while creating prints from his film in the darkroom.
He describes his number one inspiration as Jerry Uelsmann, a surrealist photographer whose techniques of combining photos Lang is learning from.
“This is someone that I discovered going to school in Mercer in 2014,” Lang said. “I had to do a project on two surrealist artists…And after seeing his work and finding out that it was only darkroom based, I instantly became hugely obsessed with it. But I never ever thought that I would be able to do what he does, until I tried it and was like, wait, I feel comfortable with this. I’m going to try to roll with it.”
The first part of the project—traveling and taking the pictures—started July 8. He’ll be on the road for two months.
“His [Uelsmann] whole mindset was, it was called post visualization, which is just shoot the images, look at them afterwards and just see what you can make from them,” Lang said.
Lang won’t see any of the photos taken on the trip until he comes home and develops the film.
Lang started his two-month quest making it to the east border of Ohio by midnight on his first day. His journey is loosely planned around big destinations, places he’s always wanted to see.
The first mark on the trail was Glacier National Park, in Montana. Along the way, he plans to stay at free campsites he can find. He plans on driving as long as he can and stopping when he wants, whenever inspiration strikes.
From there Lang headed south to Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower, then to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.
After hitting that cluster of scenic locations, the trek continues south.
When he hits Colorado, he plans to meet up with his cousin and some friends out there and rely on them to point him in the direction of landscapes to match his artistic vision.
“These little stops along the way that I don’t plan, that’s where I end up finding a lot of the more interesting subject matter,” Lang said. “But I use the big destinations as kind of a guide as to how I want to navigate across the U.S.”
The next stop is Monument Valley, a desert region bordering on Arizona and Utah. Then north into Utah where Lang didn’t make specific plans but has noticed the beauty the state has to offer and has wanted to see for himself.
Once he reaches Washington state, Lang will meet up with his artist friend, Paris Pijuan, a student at Princeton University. Pijuan shot a short film of Lang posted to YouTube in late June focusing on “Manifest Content.” The film details what the project is set to accomplish in Lang’s words. This trailer for Lang’s project references his planned departure date, July 2, which was moved due to setbacks because of the pandemic.
Pijuan had already planned to be flying out to Washington roughly around the time Lang would make it to the state. The two want to hike together before Lang journeys on south through Oregon, California and then back east through Texas.
At this point in his drive, if he has the time, he will continue east and go through the Carolinas, following the coast until he makes it home to Hamilton.
“This is the first step of the project,” Lang said. “I go and collect images on film, and I’ll get home, the next step would be to develop everything. And then once I develop and see what I have, the last and final step would be going into the darkroom and printing and overlaying images to create the surrealist appearance of a dream.”
The Thomas George Artists Fund that is funding his project requires Lang to create two pieces by the end of the year.
Lang has been applying to artist residencies in Philadelphia and New York so when he returns he’ll ideally have a darkroom where he can work out of.
At home, he is only able to develop his negatives. The darkroom is where Lang will combine photos to create his end products for “Manifest Content.”
“As the viewer will see the images, incorporating the landscape and death within the landscape or stark images of the landscape, it’s meant to kind of start a conversation as you view them…The thing is, each viewer can see it and interpret it differently,” Lang said. “That’s kind of where the project is meant to go. Because it’s surrealist. It’s not one set, it’s not one single conclusion.”
The end of his traveling is dependent on the start of his final college semester at MCCC. This fall semester, he will complete his associate’s in photography.
Lang, 24, didn’t take the traditional route through college. Similar to his ongoing project, he had a loose plan of where photography would take him—in his career and academically.
After completing two semesters at MCCC in 2014 directly out of Steinert High School, Lang decided to take a full-time job with Nikon and leave school. Lang quit in 2016, got a working visa and moved to New Zealand where he explored his love of landscapes and photography. He traveled through Southeast Asia once his working visa ran out.
“I lived in New Zealand for a year,” he said. “I’ve traveled through Europe, and I’ve been to South America a couple times. I’ve never seen the U.S.”
It was over the next few years that Lang continued to travel and consider furthering his work in photography, all while using Hamilton as a “home base” of sorts.
“I wanted to kind of push forward past landscapes and try to make something a little more thought provoking,” Lang said. “So that’s when I started to think about different projects that I want to cover, topics that people can talk about and make something with a little more meaning to me as well.”
He moved back to Hamilton officially in 2019 and went back for his third semester at MCCC in the spring of 2020.
Growing up in Hamilton, Lang attended Sayen Elementary, Reynolds Middle School and Steinert High School.
His work was first recognized back in 2012, when he took a closeup photograph of a frog’s eye with his macro-lens camera. Lang would walk to Sayen Gardens almost everyday snapping shots of the wildlife around him.
He submitted his photo to Artworks Trenton’s Art All Night and a contest being held at the same time. The photo won first place and was bought for $50—Lang’s first sale to someone he hadn’t met before.
“After that, that kind of put in my mind, maybe I can pursue this a little more than as something I just do in my free time,” Lang said.