In 2017, 33-year-old Los Angeles-based photographer Devyn Galindo purchased a VW Camper. Its exterior was a gorgeous olive green – real ’70s style – and Galindo (who goes by both they/them and she/her pronouns) nicknamed it Sweet Pea. Within no time, they had transformed it into a traveling studio and it has been an integral part of their life and work ever since. “I wanted to be able to hit the road and make projects across the U.S. to document queer stories,” they recall. “I feel we are often written out of social narratives – especially queer POC folks – and I wanted to leave behind a project that documents our existence. I was traveling with a few cameras, and lots of rolls of film, and I started to photograph people in the van, around the van, or in their spaces. Working and living out of a van is the kind of freedom that I always want to feel – to live simply and minimally and to connect with others has always been the dream for me.”
The resulting series, The Van Dykes Project, conjures a sun-drenched, inclusive, and seductive queertopia. Introducing us to LGBTQ+ folk across the U.S. and beyond through portraits, oral histories and personal narratives, its aim is to preserve and promote contemporary queer culture for future generations everywhere.
Galindo grew up between Texas and California. “I had a very nomadic lifestyle growing up which I think allowed me to be in a constant state of curiosity and wonder. I was a little skater kid that got plucked out of California and forced into this machismo Texan culture. It all felt very alien to me at the time but now I try to embrace each part of my journey and incorporate it into my work.” Inspired by everything from ’90s skate culture to the tractor-driving, camo aesthetic of their later childhood in rural Texas, Galindo describes themself as “a true mixed bag of experiences” – their personality a constellation of lifestyles and environments.
“I’m also mixed race,” Galindo adds, “so growing up with one side of your family that is living in poverty and lacking resources and witnessing the other side that is living comfortably (and horribly racist against my dad because he is Mexican and brown) really informed a lot of my vision for the world, the injustices within it and how I want to create culture change and shift conversations to make a better world for my community.” Galindo’s queerness now shapes their work and they use it, they say, as “a playground and a way to dissect the cis heteronormative white world we live in and reconstruct it”.
The Van Dykes Project is inspired by a caravan of lesbians who traveled the U.S. and Mexico during the 1970s, seeking “a life of radical rebellion and feminist empowerment.” Galindo calls the group, founded by Lamar Van Dyke, “legends” and expresses admiration for the life they carved out for themselves. “They were rebels on the road just taking up space in a world that really wasn’t a safe place for a dyke to live in back then,” Galindo says. “They have a bunch of fun stories! Lamar Van Dyke is currently living in Seattle – her van broke down there back in the ’80s and she’s been there ever since. We’ve been in close contact since the project began and she is so excited for this new generation of Van Dykes. I think we are just picking up from where they left off and continuing the legacy for the modern queer voice.”
Warm evenings and endless summer days characterize Galindo’s images. With dreamy scenes of lake swimming, open roads, and gentle embraces between friends and lovers, the pictures have an intimate and nostalgic feel. “My visual style is very sculptural and raw,” they say. “In a world that is over-polished, I like to bring something real and deeper to the conversation. My gift is that I can really see people and make connections. Too often we are mapping projections onto people – especially with the influence of social media – but I love people just as they are and I think my community feels that when we create together. The Van Dykes images are more of a candid feel than my typical work and I love how liberating that feels. It’s a very day-in-the-life approach.” Galindo’s pictures are mostly of people from their extended network, or friends of friends, but there are also some people they met by chance along the way, because the photographer embraces an open and organic process.
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