Arts Emily Blincoe on Why the Best Plan Can Be No Plan

by Roger Kamholz | July 09, 2018

For Nashville, TN-based photographer Emily Blincoe, being on the road is like coming home, and the pictures she captures become the mementos she totes from place to place.

Blincoe, who posts her photos @emilyblincoe, recently spoke to Life and Money by Citi about her mobile life.

Describe your typical day.

Emily: There are no typical days for me, really. Lately, I’m on the road about half the time and home in Nashville or Austin the other half. I start to get antsy if anything I’m doing feels repetitive — which is probably why I enjoy traveling so much. I love waking up somewhere new and seeing, trying and experiencing new things; it keeps me inspired.

I have learned to set a few rules for myself though. No matter where I’m waking up, I set the tone for the day with a healthy breakfast and a 10-minute meditation. No social media is allowed within the first hour of waking up. I also give myself some time for administrative tasks like answering emails. I try to handle as much as possible early in the day so the rest of the day is freed up for other things.

​What’s it like to run a mostly mobile-based business? Where does life end and work begin for you?

Emily: Freedom is extremely important to me. The first tattoo I ever got was the word "untied" on my wrist; it's a reminder that I can do anything and I can go anywhere. So running a business on the go has been perfect for me.

I’m lucky that my life is my work and my work is my life. Most of the images I create are simply documentation of the life I’m living and what I’m doing, so those worlds blend very nicely. I’ve intentionally created a life where I’m doing what I love, and it just so happens to be my job too — that allows me to stay passionate about what I’m doing. I know that is rare, and that I’m lucky — so I am never not grateful for each day.

What do you like and dislike about social media?

Emily: I have met so many life-long friends through social media. I was able to quit my job five years ago and do photography full-time because of social media. And as a nomad, I rely on social media to keep up with my friends and family.

station wagon with hatchback open revealing sleeping dog

Photo courtesy of Emily Blincoe

Of course, there are drawbacks too. Sometimes social media can be a major bummer if you let it. Should we be on social media all day every day? No way! On the days that are harder than others, watching the curated version of everyone else's life can make you feel worse if you're in a certain headspace.

Social media is not always showing the whole picture — the bad days, the flat tires, the stress, the grief and loss, and the broken hearts. Those things happen to everyone, but not everyone shares those parts of their lives. That's not necessarily bad or good, it's just the reality.

It can also be pretty easy to start comparing yourself to others based on likes or followers. Those things do not measure our worth. With awareness of social media’s pros and cons, you can find a good balance of what works for you. But we can’t let the potential flaws outweigh the coolest parts of what social media can bring to our lives.  

With awareness of social media’s pros and cons, you can find a good balance of what works for you.
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Thousands of people interact with you and respond directly to your work. Do you think having such a large, vocal following has shaped you as an artist?

Emily: It's hard not to take notice of what work people enjoy most. It seems like every photo we share has to be “epic,” and that isn't necessarily in line with how everyday life is, or what I find worthy of photographing. I love finding beauty in those smaller moments, too. My love of photography was formed by documenting my life, friends, family — the epic and the in-between parts. I don't like to be put into a box or cater to what is expected of me. So I just keep shooting what I like to shoot, and then I sort out what goes where afterward. And I keep a lot just for myself.

No one wants to focus on the one negative comment out of a hundred that were kind, but I think that's something we all struggle with. At the same time, constant praise has its drawbacks too. It can give an inflated sense of self or create a soft bubble that could hold back creative growth.

For me, I have a group of people that I know and trust to give me honest feedback who lovingly challenge me when it's appropriate. I see the rest, good and bad, as noise — not validation or a true reflection of me and my work. You can never let other people decide what feels right for you.

winding road

Photo courtesy of Emily Blincoe

How do you use photography to get to know an unfamiliar place you’re visiting?

Emily: I love exploring new places. Sometimes I find places on my own, and sometimes I’ve saved an image from my feed that I want to visit someday. When I’m traveling I do a lot of research on where I’m going and what I want to see, while also leaving the space and time to just wander aimlessly. Finding places accidentally is the most rewarding for me. I put a lot of value on uniqueness and originality, so the most epic places are not always on my radar. And when I do visit the epic places — and trust me, those are worth visiting — I try to capture them in a new way that I haven't seen done before; I try to put my own stamp on it.

Tell us about your photo series “Arrangements” — depicting neatly ordered collections of things — which has received a lot of attention since it began in 2011.

Emily: The arrangement series is another way I try to put my twist on things and look at a subject in a way I had not seen before. For the first year of the series I found a lot of joy in thinking of different things that could potentially look cool in a photo. It has evolved over the years into something I try to create more meaningfully.

These days, I let those images find me. The subject may be items collected from a camp spot, or flowers growing in my mother’s garden or my grandmother's stamp collection. I want the items to show a moment in time for me, memories of people I’ve met, people I love, places I’ve been, things I’m seeing and nature from the changing seasons.

There is so much beauty in the world when you look really close-up. I want these images to be a representation of that — to show that I was looking up close, that I’m paying attention. I create these images to remember. I would hope viewers are also able to see these sometimes mundane items in a new, beautiful way that causes them to pay attention or look up close, too.

close up of cacti

Photo courtesy of Emily Blincoe

Take us to your “happy place.” What would we see and experience? What do you do when you’re there?

Emily: My happy place is being on the road, with my dog, my camera and no particular place to be. There are a lot of reasons I travel — some of them I’ve mentioned, like the feeling of being free and waking up somewhere I’ve never been. I spend a lot of time going down back roads just to see where they lead me. I like noticing plants and flowers that I’ve never seen before — all the details of a space. I like to spend an afternoon watching grass blow around in the wind, or rocks tumble around on the shore of a lake, or sitting on top of my car to watch the sunset. We all have our own ways to meditate and these are mine.

It's about a feeling of being present in a moment, with no place else you need to be. It's the peace of it all and a connected feeling with the world. Those little moments feel like home to me.

It's about a feeling of being present in a moment, with no place else you need to be.
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Where are you excited to visit next?

Emily: In the summertime, when it gets too hot in Texas or Tennessee, I like to head north. This summer I will head toward Wisconsin and make my way west, maybe even into Canada for a bit. This trip will be one of those that doesn't have much of a route or plan. I’ll just follow the weather and the swimming spots and all the back roads. Just the way I like it.

Roger Kamholz

creates content for Citi’s Global Consumer Bank and is, at best, an amateur photographer. He has written about dining and travel for more than 10 years.