Fresh out of college, Foster Huntington secured a job designing at Ralph Lauren after a designer at the company saw his photo blog. It was an awesome opportunity, and he loved doing it. But while most kids his age were seeking security, he was seeking freedom.
Huntington wanted to minimise his possessions and minimise his life, so he bought a van. “I didn’t want to spend my youth in an office,” he told Business Insider. Along with the job, he had also gotten a book deal stemming from his work online. He took the advance money and hit the road, telling himself, “If I don’t do it now, I never will.”
But being the internet expert he is, he kept growing his massive presence on social media, turning his travels into an immensely popular Instagram as well as four different Tumblr accounts (he has nearly a million followers on Instagram and about half a million combined on his Tumblr accounts).
Being on the road was great, but he found it harder to be productive. So he decided to park his Volkswagen van for a bit and pursue another dream that was a little more stationary, this time building a treehouse with his friends that he could live in and work from.
The Cinder Cone, as they call it, has been in construction for over a year, and this past month Huntington ran a Kickstarter to fund a book about the project, which has already reached more than $US70,000 — more than doubling his goal.
We let Huntington, now 27, tell us in his own words about the treehouse, how he uses social media and the internet to his advantage, and his overall journey so far as a nomad and creative in the 21st century.
'The treehouse was mainly a collaboration between me and Tucker Gordon. He really handled the design of it. Creatively, it's both of ours, but Tucker was the one who really translated some abstract ideas I had into reality. And it shows. He's an amazing designer.'
'We referenced a bunch of design books, like the 'Tiny Homes' series by Lloyd Kahn. We watched movies like 'Indiana Jones,' 'Huck Finn,' 'Star Wars,' 'Swiss Family Robinson,' and 'Hook,' where they had these fantastical buildings. Why can't those be reality? They can: You just gotta build them.'
'I'm dyslexic, so at a young age, I was really drawn to photo books. I remember when I was a kid I was really into remote-control aeroplanes. I'd go to the library and look at all the books they had. I wouldn't read them; I would just look at all the photos. Photos of people building them, photos of people flying them. That is something that I feel doesn't really translate as well to modern electronic media.'
'People have different appetites for content. Instagram is this platform where people are walking down the street and looking at their phone and they can't digest an image that's super complex. On Tumblr, people have a little bit larger of an appetite but still certainly not the same appetite as in a book, where you can tell a much more in-depth story. That's why I'm drawn to do it.'
'I wanted to get people inspired to make stuff. Whether it's building some little bunk bed in their apartment or building a treehouse in their backyard or building a cabin. I wanted to show with this book that here's a group of people that some of them were really experienced woodworkers, but a lot of us weren't, and we just kind of figured it out and it turned out really well.'
'Most of the book will be shot in medium format. There's some moments where I didn't have my film camera; I just had my iPhone. Or I just had a little digital camera, that I'll include in the book just because I think it fills some holes.'
'Photography is changing so fast right now, faster than I think it ever has. For a long time, I shot film because I like the workflow and the dynamic range advantage. Now the technology is changing, so I think there's less of a technical advantage to shooting film. But there's certainly a feeling that you can't replicate.'
'I've had a laptop since I was relatively young. Being dyslexic, my handwriting is so bad that my teachers were like, 'We need to figure out a way for Foster to use a computer because no one can read his handwriting' (laughs). So I've been on a computer pretty early, and it's just kind of been an appendage to me.'
'I would never be able to do what I do if I didn't have the channels of the internet. If you wanted to take photos and make videos 20 years ago, you had to have a distribution system in mind. You had to work for a magazine or have a connection at a public TV channel, or all these things that now you can just put it online and see what it does.'
'It makes everyone a photographer and a videographer. Everyone makes stuff these days, which I think is awesome. It's a way more democratic way of making things. There's a lot of challenges too, trying to make a living as a photographer or someone who makes videos. But there's also opportunity because people are involved now in ways that they haven't been before.'
'I got my first skateboard when I was around 7. It's always been a constant in my life. Skating was the first cultural group of people that I really identified with, and because of that, I've always seen the world through that lens. Originally, we were just going to build a small mini-ramp and I was like, 'Why don't we build a bowl?' And it was just kind of like, 'I guess we can!''
'It's something that really keeps you young. Two days ago, I had a friend up who was 80 years old and he still skateboards. It's just so cool seeing how something like skateboarding can stay with you through your whole life. So that's what the bowl is for me. I'm going to skate now and I'm going to skate in 20 years.'
'Every time that I've made long-term plans, something great has always happened, but it never works out the way I initially anticipated. I've learned to not focus as much on the long-term plans and just focus on doing stuff in the more immediate time frame.'
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