Review: Home And Away [From BA 43-100]

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"A day-in-the-life of some kind of bike-builder entrepreneur. Muted images, hazy and blurred: coffee cup, typewriter, a bicycle in silhouette..

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The newsprint photo essay rested freebie-like on  the counter of Ampersand, a funky and fine purveyor of vintage art and photography books in northeast Portland. At first glance, with its casually uneven fold and the faded underwater tint of the color photographs, it looked like an artsy weekly magazine.

But there were no coupon inserts, no horoscopes or 800 numbers blaring from the back page. Understated images unfolded from quarto to full newspaper-sized—someone building a bike while seated on a bench; the names “Freeman” and “Milliman” superimposed on a Foosball table. On the true front page was a black and white portrait of a bearded, plaid-shirted man in a knit cap standing in some sun-filtered alleyway, smoke drifting up through a fire escape. With a suitcase-sized bag in his hand and a guarded neutrality in his expression, he was clearly a traveler, and the perfect representation of all the solitary introspection and nostalgia that implies. Especially since he was partially obscured by large white letters spelling out Home and Away.

Extremely minimal text told the haphazard story of a day-in-the-life of some kind of bike-builder entrepreneur. Muted images, hazy and blurred, paired the clutter of coffee cup and typewriter with a washed-out sky and bicycle in silhouette. Suddenly we’re wheeled through urban streets, and the limited palette that brought us a field in fall light, now detailed the painted brick of an industrial interior.

“What is this?” I asked owner Myles Haselhort, totally taken in by the mystery. “Is it free?”

He said it was a collaborative project between Freeman Transport, makers of hand-built travel bikes based in Montana, and his friend Chris Milliman, a photographer out of New Hampshire. He showed me more of Milliman’s work in the slick racing journal Embrocation, and told me Home and Away could be mine for three dollars. Sold.

Home and Away is essentially an advertisement for Freeman Transport, describing a cross-country journey with one of their bikes: dismantle and pack it into an overhead-compartment-sized bag, put it back together when you land at the airport, and away you go.

If Freeman’s intention was to capture attention by evoking story, they succeeded. The narrative is at once familiar and strangely jumbled: daily journal-like snapshots of a homegrown bike business. Milliman’s photos, richly textured and full of curiosity, create a story as compelling as a good novel, and leave you wanting to know more.

I did, anyway, so I checked out Freeman Transport’s website, and though my modest means preclude me from actually owning such a nifty, packable bike, I’m glad they exist. I also looked up Mr. Milliman, in the hopes of finding out more about this collaboration. His reply follows.

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Melissa Reeser Poulin: How did you meet the Freeman team? Do you ride a Freeman bike?

Chris Milliman: I met Ben Ferencz in Missoula last summer. I don’t have a Freeman Transport bike. Yet. I love how they look, though, and would definitely covet one were I to be so lucky.

MRP: How did the concept for Home and Away develop?

CM: When Ben and I met we knew within a few hours of talking that we wanted to do a project together. From then on it was just a matter of figuring out what we could do. The idea for Home and Away percolated over a few months and quite a bit of back and forth and was an evolving project pretty much right up until we shot the final frame in New York. We wanted to produce something that told the story of the Freeman Transport brand through my images, so it would be a mutually beneficial piece.

MRP: Where did the text come from? Are they pieces from an email, journal?

CM: Ben wrote that, he wanted it to read like a diary entry. Again, we wanted to tell a story of the brand and the notion of traveling, which is at the heart of the brand, was emphasized by that sort of text.

BA: If you had to sum up the narrative arc of the images in words, what would you say?

CM: It’s just a day, or a few days, in Ben’s life. Regular life stuff: business, riding, meetings. Nothing fancy.

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MRP: What’s the story behind the Rent-A-Bike portion?

CM: That’s funny, everyone asks about that shot. It has nothing to do with renting Freeman Transport bikes at all, the shot was taken outside Chari and Company in New York and they rent bikes, so it’s their sign. I saw the sign when I shot it but didn’t really think it would come across as Freeman Transport bikes being for rent. But I guess it did.

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MRP: What was the most rewarding part of the journey or the project as a whole?

CM: There were a ton of rewarding parts. Just having the freedom to shoot like that, being told to just go and do your thing. That’s pretty great. Ben provided a great encouraging voice for me, giving unconditional trust in how I was shooting. That’s a rare thing. Then getting to work with James Selman and Weights & Pulleys, who did a yeoman’s share of pulling selects and designing the piece. Collaborating with friends whom you respect is what this project was all about. Of course, getting to go to Missoula and New York City on the same project wasn’t half-bad either.

Evan P. Schneider