Origin Story

The Birth of PhotoBohemia

That's me second from the left in both photos!

That's me second from the left in both photos!

When I was a child in Santa Barbara, there was an old photographer who had a trailer called the Trailer of Love.  If he was at a party, you could go down with your friends and get decked out in costumes and he would take your picture.  These are some of my favorite childhood pictures and as I became a photographer, the memory of the Trailer of Love always stuck with me.

Roadtripping on the Oregon coast with my mom and sister and grandma in the summer of 2013, I was about to move to San Francisco and unsure of what to do next.  Freshly back from a tumultuous year living in Egypt, the idea of a trailer photobooth popped into my head.

Months later, I was in the camera store picking up equipment for a shoot and picked up a flyer that said something like “bring your creative project to fruition."  

In SF, I had started freelancing as a photo assistant on commercial and advertising photoshoots which kept me very busy.  I'd had this trailer photobooth project in mind but felt I needed a little extra push, so I called Springboard Workshops.

Alexander said, “yeah, come to the first day, it’s free, if you don’t like it, don’t do it.”  

But then it turned into this intense situation: he wouldn’t do the workshop unless there were 5 people in the class.  4 had signed up, and I was the 5th-everybody else had signed up and paid and I came just to check it out, not really sure if I was going to join.  If I didn't do it, the workshop wouldn't happen at all!

And so I said, “give me a day to think about it” and Alexander said “no, you have to decide right now."  My life flashed before my eyes and I said “ok, I’m in.”  

And then it was fantastic.

It took me a long time to find the right trailer.  When I initially started researching this all out, I thought, ok-an Airstream is what I'll get.  That’s what a vintage trailer looked like in my mind.  It is actually incredible how well that Airstream look is sewn into the imagination of American society. 

Airstreams were too expensive, so I started watching Craigslist.  I began looking in San Francisco, but quickly expanded my search to LA.  And then the whole state of California.  And then Arizona and New Mexico and Oregon and Nevada too.  The hunt was on and I started spending 2 to 3 hours every Wednesday and Sunday scrolling through hundreds of trailers.

The Original Craigslist ad. Note: The trailer is not a 1960s Marvel. The plate that was on it was made in 1963, but the trailer's DMV record dates back to 1953. Marvel is the company that manufactured the trailer base, but I have yet to find any record of who actually built the trailer. I have done extensive research and had Adam of Avalon RV, a true expert, research it as well, with no conclusive findings.

I exclaimed out loud, “ok, that’s the one,” when I saw this guy for the first time.  I’d had a dry spell lately and was getting demoralized on my search for the perfect trailer.  But when I saw it, I knew this was the one.  I emailed the guy, got the address, and told him “I’ll drive up tomorrow.”  So I drove up the next day.

Driving the trailer back to SF was the first time I’d ever pulled a trailer.

When I was starting to work on it, at one point, my dad said to me, “why don’t you bring the trailer down to Santa Barbara to work on it?”  It was a good idea-I could get away from SF and my daily life, and focus on this project at home.  So that’s what I did.  And I could have my parents' input, which was huge because they’re both amazingly talented people, particularly my dad with building stuff and my mom with aesthetics and styling.  Also, I could source a lot of parts and materials from LA, now only a 90 minute drive away.

Installing the skylight/vent/light/fan unit.

It took a lot of aluminum to fully repair and seal the trailer's "skin."

This was my desk for 3 months.

Most of the structural wood in the sides needed to be replaced and we replaced all of the electrical wiring, building in both an AC and DC system.

The soft evening light was always a welcome sight as it signalled the end of a long day of work.

PhotoBohemia at Avalon RV getting a vintage lock, new tires and her axle serviced.

All of the lights and other vintage elements had to be tracked down, ordered and installed. I ordered parts from all over the country and became a bit of an expert on small trailer parts.

As big of a project as the physical restoration was, figuring out a color palette and sourcing décor was also a huge undertaking.

I used scrap wood to test out paint mixes, stains and painting techniques.

It was often beautiful to see the old next to the new and how they combine to create something unique and fresh. I definitely got caught up in the details of this project, but at the end of the day, it's the details that make PhotoBohemia what it is.

The last stop after 3 months of work was West Coast Polishing in Fresno. I had no idea how the acid wash and polishing would go. It depends a lot on the percentage of aluminum in the alloy and I had no way of knowing what I had on my hands.

The results were better than I could have imagined!

Once PhotoBohemia was back in San Francisco, it was time to figure out the lighting and how to run the photobooth and so began a few months of exciting experimentation with my new mobile studio.

An image from the initial lighting test with friends The Damn Fanatics. The ringlight made for a fun shoot, but not the light I was going for.

The first run of PhotoBohemia at an event: The Balanced Breakfast residency at Neck of the Woods.

I want to thank all the people that put love and sweat into PhotoBohemia.  First and foremost, to my parents for all their support in this project.  To my carpenter Bartolo who taught me so much about working with wood.  To Adam from Avalon RV who did amazing work with the electrical system.  To my dear Auntie Miriam whose generous support quite literally kept the lights on and whose hospitality has eased me into life in Los Angeles.  To Colleen Hartman who gave me styling advice.  To the guys at Home Improvement in SB and Larry’s Auto Parts.  Finally, to all my friends who have continued to support me through all my crazy projects.