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Road weary photographer focuses on meaning of love

Angela Fama converted her 1977 motorhome into a mobile studio and crisscrossed the continent for her latest photo project

“This project basically almost killed me.”

That’s how artist and photographer Angela Fama described the experience of crisscrossing North America to create her new work, “What is Love.”

Between May and October of last year, Fama drove her converted 1977 motorhome/mobile photo studio more than 17,000 kilometres to photograph and record people in front of
the same backdrop as they pondered and answered the question “What does love mean to you?”

It took Fama six months to sift through photos and audio of more than 300 people from her time on the road, and the result of all that work is set to premier April 7 as part of this year’s Capture Photography Festival at the Burrard Arts Foundation gallery.

NIne years ago, Fama suffered a brain injury as the result of a car accident. In the year it took — as she describes it — to put herself back together, she had to confront past sexual and familial traumas, and her work is part of her ongoing attempt to heal and encourage others to share their own traumatic experiences.

“It’s like there’s all this red tape… between survivors, supporters and the rest of the world,” she said. “I felt really isolated when I started to first want to share because I felt like there was no space for me to share outside of this one little tiny bubble of others who have had the same experiences. [But] the more that I learned how to share about it, the more that I recognized that around me people really wanted to share and be a part of the process of other people sharing.”

The making of “What is Love” took a toll on Fama that she says she’s still recovering from, describing her trip as a traumatizing experience that she didn’t want to talk about at first because it felt like she’d done something wrong.

For a start, the trip cost her four times what she thought it would, in part due to vehicle and camera repairs, effectively wiping out her life savings.

The journey itself was emotionally draining. Rest proved hard to come by on the road since, as it turned out, 1977 motorhomes can’t travel at the speed Google Maps assumes when calculating trip duration, meaning in order to make the next shoot location, Fama had to keep on moving. The feast-or-famine levels of human interaction were hard for her to cope with.

“It was… totally isolating, driving intensely through this changing scene but not really stopping, and then really intimately connecting with people, strangers, about love and then jumping back on the road,” said Fama, who also used to log her share of miles as part of the now-defunct alt-country band Eldorado.

By the time she got back to Vancouver, the endeavour had cost Fama her money, her home and her partner.

Ultimately, what she learned from talking to so many people about love was worth the hardship and something she wanted others to experience. She found people everywhere and from all walks of life had similar definitions of what love is, but details that were unique to each individual.

“If you go out into the snow, everything looks like a snowflake. But if you look in deeper and deeper, they get so much more intricate and so much more individual,” she said. “We’re all so much the same and yet completely different.”

Fama said the project has changed her life and shifted her perception of the world. For example, in one of Regina’s rougher neighbourhoods she met and photographed a man whose thoughts on love have had a lasting impact on her.

“When I looked at this man I realized that… he’s probably being told by the world tenfold that he’s not the concept of what people are supposed to be like in order to be loveable, and here was this man giving me the most love I’d experienced as of yet on that trip,” Fama said. “I had my idea of love and I was like ‘OK, let’s compare that to everyone else’s.’ And somewhere in the first couple of weeks everything I thought was thrown out the window.”

“What Is Love” runs April 7 to May 14 at the Burrard Arts Foundation (*BAF) Gallery, 108 East Broadway, as part of the Capture Photography Festival. Admission is free. Fama will be giving an artist talk on Saturday, April 9 at 2 p.m.