In 2011, photographers Alan Winslow and Morrigan McCarthy hopped on a pair of bikes and embarked on a global mission to interview and photograph as many members of the Millennial generation as possible. Over a span of three years, they cycled (and later, drove around in a Honda Element turned “mini-camper”) to 24 different countries and met roughly 700 people between the ages of 18 and 32. Their project, a candid, ongoing documentation of members of this generation, is called The Geography of Youth. “We had friends going to war and friends moving back home with their parents,” Winslow and McCarthy told the Cut in an e-mail. “We pretty quickly set to work designing The Geography of Youth with the intention of asking questions about our generation and what unites us on a global scale. There’s a lot of static out there about Millennials, and we wanted to allow members of our generation to speak for themselves.”
From 2011 to 2013, they rode from Alaska to Argentina, then around Europe and Morocco with only the bare necessities (a camp stove; a tent; wool-clothing items from their sponsor, Ibex; a laptop; four hard drives; sleeping bags; bike tools; sunscreen; and bear spray in Alaska and Canada) and photographed every Millennial they met along the way with Leica ME cameras. In the spring of 2013, after settling down in Brooklyn after their adventures, Winslow and McCarthy, 29 and 30, opened up their the Geography of Youth website for online submissions. In total, the site has over 1,000 participants from more than 34 countries answering questions on everything from whether they feel like adults to if they believe they’ll accomplish their dreams. By next year, they’re planning to turn The Geography of Youth into a public art show that will be shown worldwide. The Cut spoke to Restless Collective about the most surprising lessons they learned about Millennials on a global scale, the moments they became “adults,” and their adventures around the world.
What’s the backstory of Restless Collective?
We met in the summer of 2007 while we were both working at the Maine Media Workshops, a small photography school in Rockport, Maine. We moved to Brooklyn after that summer and came up with the idea for our first project: an 11,000-mile bicycle ride around the USA to document Americans’ opinions on the environment. It was during this project that we started noticing how disparate the lives were of people our age. [After we finished it], we pretty quickly set to work designing the Geography of Youth with the intention of asking questions about our generation and what unites us on a global scale. There’s a lot of static out there about Millennials, and we wanted to allow members of our generation to speak for themselves.
How many years total have you been interviewing Millennials? Is this still an ongoing project?
We’ve been interviewing Millennials for three years now, and reading about and studying our generation for four. The project is currently open to public submissions! We’re excited about the public submissions because it allows the project to reach into communities that we haven’t visited, and it allows Millennials some space and time for reflection. We’ve received profound and honest submissions throughout the entirety of the project, but thinking about your life on your own time adds a dimension of introspection that’s hard to reach when you have two photographers standing around waiting for you to finish your survey.
In your Kickstarter video, you mention that you wanted to find out if our generation really is as connected as we think. What did you two find? And how do you feel about interconnectivity and our generation’s dependence on social networks, in general?
We found our generation to be even more connected than we thought. In every small town on every continent we visited, there were young people online, reading the same news articles, posting on the same social media sites, sharing and connecting with the world in the same way. We suspect that the rapid expansion of the Internet and especially the global proliferation of social media are the main factors in our generation’s more or less cohesive Weltanschauung. There is no question that social media has changed the world we live in, but it’s everywhere and there’s no going back. There’s not much sense in lamenting a simpler way of life, and the positive ramifications of social media are exciting and, in our minds, far outweigh any negative behaviors that are associated with its development.
Can you tell me the story behind the bikes? Did you end up running into any problems with them?
While we were planning our first project, Mo’s father offhandedly mentioned that he had a college friend who had cycled across the country. We jumped on the idea. The idea of being totally self-contained and self-powered was appealing. Plus, who doesn’t love a good adventure? Fortuitously, traveling by bicycle is inexpensive, and so it ultimately allowed us to go a lot further and photograph more people than we had originally planned. Waterford Precision Cycles donated us two custom steel-framed touring bikes and they held up beautifully. Actually, they held up longer than Mo did: Her knee blew out from overuse when we were in Northern Africa. After several months, it became clear that she wasn’t going to be able to ride again, so we turned a Honda Element into a micro-camper (put a bed and stove in it), and traveled the USA continuing the project.
What were some of the more surprising lessons you took away from the project? There are so many articles on the Millennial generation that seem so “American” — yet, in terms of interconnectivity and tech dependence, it’s a global phenomenon.
Oftentimes in the media, Millennials are portrayed as being self-centered and overly picky about our careers — which is off-handedly attributed to our being coddled or spoiled. We’ve found our generation actually displays a sort of fanatic emphasis on the greater good. Those who are being perceived as picky or privileged are often simply seeking work they can feel good about doing. As a global generation, we aren’t subscribing to the idea that stability is everything. We’re pushing to find jobs and careers that allow us to contribute to whatever cause we’re passionate about. We care deeply about arts, the environment, social justice, politics, and equality. Perhaps this is because we are a generation that is hyperglobally connected and, as a result of the myriad of tools at our disposal, so socially aware of global issues and our own small parts we play in them. The stereotypical Millennial in her parents’ basement playing video games surely exists, but in our travels and observations, she is by far the minority. Most Millennials we’ve met on this project are passionate, engaged, and interested in thinking outside the box.
Borrowing from your own questions: When do you think you became an adult? And what exactly does being an adult mean to both of you?
Morrigan: I think that I became an adult while traveling for The Geography of Youth. Throughout most of my twenties, I would have said I was an adult, but felt a little wishy-washy about it. Somewhere along the way, I became more confident in voicing my opinions, more steadfast in my goals, and more at peace with my life choices. To me, that’s adulthood.
Alan: Two years ago I would have said that I’m in a transition stage of my life, somewhere between being an adult and not. This past year, however, I’ve started to get a better understanding as to who I am: my strengths and weaknesses. I believe that living on my own and making my own career choices brought me close to feeling like an adult, but confidence in my life and career and having a better understanding of myself brought me fully into adulthood.