Born in the Adirondack Mountains, 31-year-old freelance creative + art director Bowen Ames has always had a deep affection for the outdoors. Maybe that’s why he’s one of the few people on Instagram who tends to avoid a selfie in favor of a rural landscape.
Two years ago his Instagram was already generating an influx of interest. “And then I got a dog. And when you get a dog, everyone wants to see your dog.”
Together with Camper, the pair have traveled around the world, snapping ’grams along the way while embracing his wanderlust.
Below, we chat with Bowen Ames/@bowen_ames.
NewNowNext: What is the biggest difference between Bowen Ames and @bowen_ames?
Bowen Ames: Much like anyone, my IG persona probably favors the more likable aspects of my life or attractive moments I happen upon in my day: the beauty of travel and adventure, giant landscapes, ingenious and inspiring design items I have collected. I try to employ a certain amount of transparency and not just highlight the pretty parts of my life when I can. I talk about the trials of constant travel, the comedy in things going wrong or when I’m tired of being on the go.
I don’t want my followers to have an inaccurate or unrealistic idea of my lifestyle. I see lots of ugly and sad stuff outside of what I photograph, my dog is poorly behaved sometimes, and I have plenty of faults which I end up confronting pretty swiftly through traveling. It’s just that those aspects of my life don’t make for nice photos. I wouldn’t want to look at that feed all that much if I were someone else. But I also wouldn’t want to spend my entire day looking at puppies, cool sneakers and pretty landscapes. I want to see it all.
So many new followers! I feel like I need to introduce myself. Thanks for joining in on my travels. I've got a special treat for your summer adventures. Check out the link in my profile and follow along to trade music and win some of my summer travel essentials. Also, say hi! Camper and I are stoked to get to know you. ✌️ by @neildacosta
How did you become “Insta-famous”?
It’s been a series of random connections, the support of strangers and the work I am in. I have always traveled, made artwork and taken photos. A few of IG’s earliest users started following me when I started my account because they liked seeing the bits of work I shared when I was traveling in remote locations. A few of those folks mentioned me in articles like this one about their favorite people to follow. Instagram featured my feed on a few occasions as a suggested user. More recently, brands like @adidas, music labels, and other media outlets like @vogue, who I’ve worked for as an art director, have tagged me in the projects I’ve done for them and so a really diverse following has slowly joined in to see where I am and what I am doing.
How has Camper changed your life?
He’s sort of changed everything and nothing. At the time I decided to get a dog I thought it would make me settle down a bit, something I was looking for and hadn’t done in a while. Ironically, I took a month away from work when I got him so I could train and get to know him. We ended up road-tripping down the coast from Portland to LA and he really liked the changing scenery. In turn, he developed some pretty high expectations for how we spend our time. He’s bored after a few days at home and I end up taking him on trips to the ocean, the mountains and recently 3 months of hopping from city to city across America. If he changed anything, it’s that I have an avid travel companion who is always ready to come with me.
What do you find people respond most to on your Intstagram?
Photos of #Camperames are definitely at the top of the list. After that, people really enjoy a desolate landscape. I personally like to keep it balanced and share all the things I’m interested in. Recently I’ve been posting more videos so can share the music I am listening to or the process of a maker I just discovered. I’m happy to say those have been well-received. I like to think my followers have diverse taste and sensibilities. They seem to be from all over so at the very least, I’m happy they engage in my travels, whether through discovering places new to them, giving me tips, or even meeting up for a show or a hike.
Where do you call home?
Technically I have an apartment that I really love in Portland. But prior to the three month road trip I have been on, I was traveling for as many months art directing photo shoots for Google. This cumulative time made me feel like home was wherever I needed it to be, whether a hotel or a tent or a friend’s couch. Then this summer on an impulse I bought a tiny camper to tow behind my car. I haven’t slept anywhere else since then really. It’s just big enough for a bed, AC, my stuff, the dog and his stuff and the gear I shoot with. If home is where you are happiest, that is absolutely my current home.
Are you always traveling alone? Do you get lonely?
I am mostly alone (with Camper), but we generally have some pretty tight friends to visit in every city. On this last trip, the self-assigned travel project I created for us was to meet up with musicians and makers everywhere we went and document their lives and our travels. I recorded live performances, took photos along the way and edited them when we were in mountains between cities. It meant I was well-occupied when we were alone.
I have also been known to convince a friend to hop on board with us at the last minute. A few times I took guys I was dating along. It’s not something I recommend, despite how romantic it sounds. Travel can be trying for anyone, and though it’s an amazing way to get to know someone, there isn’t a single person who isn’t entirely annoying after 12 hours of driving in a tiny car together. It’s not to say I won’t do it again, but I’ve learned its best to get to know someone a bit before we pile in the car.
Who are your favorite people to follow on Instagram?
I love following designers and makers. @sonadora_handmade is a friend and designer I am always inspired by. I visited her and her studio-mates in Nashville after we met at a birthday party back in Portland years ago. Her refined design sensibilities always astound me and the process they have evolved in their studio is incredible.
I also love following companies who are striving to put out good work and support others who are trying to do the same. I’m an avid @squarespace user for my own work. I love @designmilk and the designers they blog about. @architizer has always inspired me, in that they share the coolest spaces around the world which effects where I want to travel to.
And most importantly the people I adore and wish I could be around more often. @lostandmound is a visual thinker and also my NYC BF. Her creative/illustration work and innovative use of puns in her captions keeps me going on a daily basis.
Every now and then it's possible to surprise yourself with what you are capable of creating. I spent the night in Joshua Tree with @atvottero and on a bit of a whim we decided to play around with extended exposures, something relatively new to both of us. The whim turned into a full night of painting with light and capturing this incredible place in a way we didn't know we could. #coverofamerica #playlistfromtheroad #peoplescreatives
What are some tips for traveling alone?
I have a lot, both practical ones to existential ones. For one: never turn down a shower when it’s offered. You will never regret smelling better than you currently do. Also, if something makes you nervous, whether it’s climbing a high peak or having lunch with a friend of a friend of a friend you have never met, just do it. Don’t get yourself into some unsafe situations, but confronting that slight discomfort is how you’ll become a more comfortable person in your life on and off the road. Lastly, and on that existential note: I’ve realized after the last few months of solo travel that loneliness is just a love for other people left unexpressed. If you can find the many ways to express your love for people when you are alone and do them as frequently as you need, it doesn’t go away entirely, but it feels healthier, more tolerable and less heavy.
Can you describe your coming out story?
I’m pretty lucky, I think. My mother coached me out of the closet when I was 16 years old. I had been spending a lot of time with a kid from another school and she asked me point-blank, “Is he your boyfriend?” I sort of awkwardly muttered, “I guess maybe,” and she said something to the effect of, “That’s great and I love you, but I get the sense that he’s a little clingy and you are very independent, so just be careful not to hurt his feelings.” It was so classic given my rapport with her today. She wants me to find the right partner maybe more than I do. From there she let me take the lead and come out to my friends and family when I felt ready.
With some people, I’ve never felt the need for a coming out conversation. So I just continued to live my life, sharing parts on social media. In that way, I feel like I continue to come out to people today, who are following but never realized that I’m gay. When that happens, I sometimes notice I’ll a slew of followers, but I’ll also notice those who stick around, despite their politics or opinions. A few times I’ve engaged in really fascinating conversations with conservative Christian folks who have followed me for a long time and never realized that I am LGBT. It’s important to me that I try to understand them and their differing stance on everything from gay-marriage to reproductive rights. Often we have so much in common outside of those issues, I feel almost obligated to engage and try to see where and why we veer off to our polarized opinions.
What place that you’ve been to had the most unexpected sense of a gay community?
I’m always surprised by how different, and often pocketed, gay communities can be within our country. At times my desire for a sense of community comes from the feeling that we’re all stuck on the internet and not actually interacting. Every city I have ever been has had totally diverse gay cultures , both online and in person. When I was in the dessert of West Texas this summer I saw a former co-worker on Scruff. I had a huge crush on him when I was fresh out of college and working at The Guggenheim. Despite being several hundred miles away, we chatted and made a plan to meet in the middle of the desert where he showed me the sculptures he was making out there. I took photos of his work and we talked about his experience coming to Texas from NYC. We barely knew each other and hadn’t seen each other in 6 years but we ended up getting along really well and meeting in Marfa the next day. We had dinner with the owners of the gallery where he shows his work, a gay couple in their 50’s. When I look at it now, four gay men having a such a lovely and intrinsically comfortable time in middle of nowhere Texas, sharing our stories and interests, laughing and enjoying each other, feeling totally at ease in a super conservative place–it’s something I never thought would happen in that part of the country. I think that’s important to realize about whatever gay community you are looking for : it might not be a huge group of people, it may just be a small group of people with whom you are most comfortable. It may not be where you expect it, and it may be only temporary, but it’s probably out there if you need it.
#tipsfromtheroad: an essential rule for every great adventure is to keep your look evolving. Even #camperames abides by this rule. We picked up a new adjustable leash and martingale collar from the fine people behind @dogplusbone while we were in Austin and now it's hands-free hiking for us from here on out.
What’s the last great book you read?
This is incredibly trite sounding: but I just started two books at the same time. One I read when I’m sitting still. The other I listen to as an audio-book while I am on the highway. That’s not the trite part, the subject matter might be. One is by a fellow Portland creative, Nick Jaina, called “Get It While You Can.” It’s his biographical story about coming to terms with the real and/or imagined failures of his life and creative process. The other is called “The Surrender Experiment” by Michael A. Singer. It’s a man’s story about letting go of the path he has projected in an attempt to allow things to take shape in a more holistic way. Now you know where my brain is at currently.
Any thoughts on Miley’s new album?
I haven’t heard it! My iPhone is chocked full of music to travel to, and she’s not on there. I will say I hope she sells a million records and keeps paving her way through the mainstream for any emerging gender-queer youth looking for inspiration. I am sure she and I have very little in common, least not musically, but I say high-five to anyone willing to put themselves in the hot seat and teach people what genderqueer even means.
Featured image courtesy of Kelly Marshall.