Hi Bryan, please present yourself: who are you? Where and when you were born? What’s your experiential path that characterizes you as a photographer?
We are actually a husband and wife team, Bryan and Melody Kahtava. Bryan was born in Burbank, California in 1978 and Melody was born in Abilene, Texas in 1977. Melody is actually the photographer, but she has had no professional training and has learned by experience only. She has always enjoyed taking photographs and recently (5 years) began taking pics of abandoned areas.
Rural exploration and vintage denim represent your world and your research topics. Do you love your land, its nature and its history?
Yes, we love and appreciate our land and history as well as the byproducts of it such as denim and lifestyle. We feel that too much of our nation’s history is being forgotten and thrown away on a daily basis. It’s not appreciated like it should be. An old homestead house is easily bull dozed away to make room for a modular house in its place, taking no mind of the history that took place in and around that house or the items still inside that hold historical value.
When and how did you approach this branch of photography and its world? What kind of people, incitements and encounters led you adventuring through forgotten spaces, abandoned mines and desolate farms?
We’ve approached this branch of photography because of our love of history, exploration and adventure. We have a way of finding beauty in what others would see as ugly. We enjoy quiet and solitude and the peace that surrounds these spaces. Nothing left but the nature that is reclaiming them. Each space has its own feel and energy, and we feed off of this. We also enjoy the preservation that can occur with some items.
Let’s move on: how is organized a typical exit of a rural explorer? Where is the starting point, what’s the itinerary to the building or to the main shooting place? Are there any essential rules to be followed before, during and after?
We enjoy visiting old towns and talking with folks and getting ideas of where to go and look. We also do a fair amount of just driving around country roads and seeing where they lead us. You’d be surprised what you can just happen upon out in the middle of nowhere. The only rules are to find something interesting to shoot. If we’re not feeling it, we don’t stick around. Melody photographs while Bryan investigates what’s been left behind.
Have you ever found yourself in situations on the edge of legality due to your curiosity?
It’s tempting, but permission is always available if you’re willing to take the time to look for it. It gets you further that way too.
Are you lone wolves or do you prefer moving in a group?
We travel only together, Bryan and Melody, with our 6 dogs. We prefer peace and solitude most of the time.
On a technical level – what are the photo-tools you can’t stay without to work effectively?
Melody literally is not a professional photographer. She uses only her DSLR and a tripod if shooting inside. Other than that, a lot of these places are too hard to get to to lug around a lot of equipment.
And what’s the philosophy, the main motivation that drives your passion forward?
What drives us forward is the preservation of history, both through photos and artefact. Preserving something that otherwise would never have been seen again.
What are the photographers who gave more inspiration to your works – those you think that have to be known if you like Urbex or Rurex?
Honestly, Melody just does it because she loves the art of it. She doesn’t really follow anyone else intently and could tell you very little about others work. She just does it because she enjoys it.
Do you feel a bit like “places collectors”? Are you also a denim collectors?
We are most definitely places collectors. We believe that life is made of memories and experiences. Each of the photos has a story of an adventure we took together. Some are funny. Some are touching. Some are creepy. Some are boring. But all have memories that we’ve collected along the way. While we preserve the denim, we don’t necessarily collect it. We pass it on to others who do enjoy collecting it. We collect other things in our lives.
Can you tell us about the garments you gathered during your explorations and some story related to them?
Our best find was 1878 buckleback Levi’s found in an old mine where an old prospector was living in that had been sealed up. They were in nearly new condition. They live in the Levi’s museum now. We were also working with an old rancher who led us to a home with 30 pairs of 1930’s-1940’s Levi’s. Another time we were mining and Bryan walked past an area just as Melody pulled a pair of 1873 A B Elfeldt jeans. We’ve recovered loads of workwear such as overalls, jeans, chambray shirts, etc. We’ve recovered pioneer women’s dresses lined with flour sacks. So much clothing has been preserved that would have otherwise been lost.
How do you combine an urbex explorer’s rule ‘not taking anything away’ with your pickers’ passion for denim garments?
Anything that we take away are not things that will change the environment. We never mess with structural aspects of the old buildings or deface the history in any way. Literally, no one would be able to tell that we had been there if they didn’t know.
So “All is not lost”. What do you think about it?
All is not lost as long as there are people willing to look for it and appreciate it and recover it because tons of history is being lost on a daily basis. Less and less people value this stuff and see it as junk. We see it for it’s true beauty and a voice to the past.