It is never too late to do the right thing - or at least that’s what you tell yourself every now and then. In actuality though this couldn’t be any further removed from the truth. You’d better hurry up because one thing sure is certain: life is fucking short. Even worse, it appears to speed up and quickly pass the older you get as you slowly lose your ability to run and travel and think and remember, up to the point where “experiencing life“ is just another phrase on your bucket list. It would be foolish to claim that every trip you take should lead to freedom, it doesn’t need to be cathartic, catalytic, profound or fundamental. Road trips actually are quite the perfect format to get into the concept of “just being“, as the monotony of asphalt, sign posts and interstate highways can easily have a comforting effect by just adding the right music via your trusted car stereo. Acclaimed writer/director Phillip Van might be known best for his awarded short films, music videos, non-fiction series and impressive catalog of commercials - or for the rad profile on Shut Skateboards - but it’s his photography that lately caught our attention, as it perfectly captures the sensation of being on the road without falling into any kind of place-of-belonging trap. Instead Van displays a tremendous love for detail and composition as he’s creating a unique kind of americana by simply taking an exit others would drive past. He took a quick break from preparing a new commercial and working on his long-overdue first full length feature for a quick Q&A with Lodown in late February.
Phil, you are a filmmaker and writer first and foremost... which role does photography play in your creative universe?
It's a great outlet for creative expression. Sometimes bigger narrative and commercial projects get tied up for technical, financial or creative reasons. But I can always take pictures autonomously and keep making things in a purely creative space.
From XBOX over YSL to Shut Skateboards. The clients you’ve worked for in the past are very diverse... do you think that the resulting imagery is connected through your visual vocabulary nevertheless?
I hope so. Usually clients, agencies, etc. reference other work I've done, so it creates an aesthetic continuity between projects, even if they're for really different purposes.
What I love about your photography is that it isn’t just random snapshots taken while being on the road, but that you take so much attention to details and composition. Is there a lot of preparation involved - in terms of locations e.g. - or does it come down to shooting from the hip in the end?
It's pretty spontaneous. But I take a lot of photos and pay attention to the frames I chose when I'm editing them. I have a good camera and lenses, but a lot of the time I just shoot on my iPhone, for the simple reason that it's always on me. I don't know if I can articulate what I'm drawn to, but I know it's usually the antithesis of mainstream instagram. I don't like shooting places or people for their own sake. But people as a part of a landscape interest me. I guess if I had to define it, I'm primarily intrigued by empty spaces. A lot of galleries feel crowded and claustrophobic to me. Especially when they function as diaries or for self-promotion. My dad's a buddhist from Vietnam and would always emphasize that there is no self. My gallery is mostly an homage to that.
Do you actually prefer to shoot digital or analog?
Digital. You can shoot without thinking about it. I think the editing is more important than the format.
Since the theme of this issue is “Vehicle“, and your photography often perfectly captures the sensation and sensitivity of being on the road, I’d love to ask you a few rather random things about this topic...
Thanks! Such great questions!
Five essential songs for basically every road trip?
1."Dreams" - Fleetwood Mac
2. "Ramble On" - Led Zeppelin
3. "Rocket Man" - Elton John
4."The Passenger" - Iggy Pop
5. "Heroes" - David Bowie
1."Where Did You Go" - Electric Youth
2. "The Trip" - Still Corners
3. "Anyone" - Crystal Bats
4."Oo La La" - Beth Ditto
5. "Noir Eden" - Peter Peter
Your five most cherished movies about being on the road?
These may not all necessarily be road movies by category. But I like that each of them features a physical journey or trip that changes the leading characters:
1."The Straight Story" by David Lynch
2. "Starman" by John Carpenter
3. "For Ellen" by So Long Kim
4. "Little Miss Sunshine" by Dayton and Faris
5. "Y Tu Mama También" by Alfonso Cuaron
If you could pick a car for exploring the country, which one would it be?
I want to say an old Mustang because I think it would look cool... but in reality I'd probably choose a hybrid.
I’m just really curious: what do you personally think about a device like “Citizen“, for which you realized the commercial?
I think it's like an episode of "Black Mirror...“ but hopefully with a happy ending.