Taylor Rees has a masters in environmental management from a prestigious university, but she’s not taking your average career path. Instead she travels the world climbing, shooting photos and video, and telling stories that focus on humanitarian and conservation issues, and is a part of the award winning Camp 4 Collective production house. Her Instagram feed (@taylorfreesolo) is a mix of world-gallivanting adventure, documentary photography, stories, and intimate, introspective moments. Oh, and Baloo, her gangly, adorable husky pup. Give her a follow, and check out our interview with her below.
Also: Taylor will be taking over our own Instagram (@thedailybeast) this weekend, so be sure to check it out.
Okay, first things first. How did you come to be on Instagram? What draws you to it?
I started under the account @treefighter, back in… 2011? I was working for a non-profit in Jackson Hole called TreeFight - bringing together kids, art, citizen science, and celebration around the plight of the white bark pine. My co-director David Gonzales and I were really inspired by the power of imagery to generate attention around important issues. We were giving kids iPhones and just letting them roam loose in the wilderness to tell whatever stories they wanted about what was happening. I loved that Instagram provided this super simple platform. One photo, one statement. Infinite windows into the lives of others, the ability to connect, and the perfect archive for all these stories. David ended up taking over the @treefighter account, and a friend suggested I make an account using my (birth given) middle name, Freesolo. Thus @taylorfreesolo.
From your feed it’s apparent that you’re beyond well travelled. How would you describe your life? What do you do? And how does Instagram factor in to that, if it does?
I spend most of my day being human. Rising with daylight, scrounging for edible things, trying to breathe decent air, neglecting to hydrate but doing my best, keeping my puppy @baloointhewild from getting into trouble. Work has been a whirlwind this last year. I finished a Masters degree in Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry last spring, and promised myself I wouldn’t run to any job in fear. I wanted to bring my background in environmental issues into filmmaking and photojournalism. Since then I have sought out projects that drive me—anthropology research on natural resource conflicts in Alaska, filmmaking with Renan (Ozturk) on a two month expedition through northern Burma, documenting a historical run across Haiti with Team Tassy, and pursuing some personal passion projects that are still in their early stages. Instagram factors into all of this. In Alaska, ‘Gramming was a way to process the lives of the people I was interviewing, putting myself in their shoes by telling their stories. In Burma it was an integral part of the expedition storytelling, coordinated with the trip sponsors and National Geographic.
Do you view Instagram as a personal or professional tool? What is the craziest adventure you’ve had because of it?
In my personal life, it’s just fun. Finger painting for adults. Yesterday I was walking home, and instead of spacing out in my head, I try to watch the world around me. Saw a cool little green beetle and decided to sit for a minute to take her picture. Wondered what the beetle was saying to her friend bug. Briefly questioned my sanity. I see Instagram as a creative tool, an incentive to keep your eyes open, especially if the medium is something you really enjoy. Professionally, it’s really important to what I do. But I enjoy it most for personal reasons.
What do you try to convey in your images on Instagram? Is there a feel or vibe that you go for, or are trying to communicate?
I try to convey an experience of some kind. I think my pictures and captions are all over the map, stylistically. Sometimes they are long form captions on an issue I care about, sometimes just short, weird nothings. If I do any editing on my phone, it’s to play with the exposure in ways that enhance whatever I am feeling in that moment. Lighter, darker… I am not trying to communicate a specific worldview or strong opinions with Instagram. I’m just trying to communicate. Period.
Any advice for the average person to have a more adventurous life, and thus more fun to share on Instagram?
That’s a silly question! Makes it seem that ‘adventurous’ is some trait one has to work on, like fitness, so they can have cool photos for Instagram! People are drawn to what they love, what they are attracted to, and they share because it’s fun. I think being willing to try new things is adventurous, that could be in the things you cook or the ways in which you live. It can also mean “outdoors adventurous” and in that case, go play outside! Often. In small bits, in big bits, whenever you can. My Grandma recently told me she was getting a tattoo that reads, “stay not standing fixed and rooted, briskly venture, briskly roam.” I dig it.
How much thought do you put into your posts? Are they just on the fly, or do you plot them out?
I post Instagrams on the fly, almost always. I’ll take time to write things that I want to get right, but mostly I just post when something happens. Or when I spend too much time scrolling through all your lives, and it inspires me to want to share something in response. Kinda like a conversation. Kinda.
I have to ask, is Baloo really as ridiculous as he looks?
@baloointhewild (Baloo), our six month old husky wolf puppy, is a babe. He is very expressive, and very stubborn. Renan is trying to teach him to cuddle, so far no luck.
What are some of your favorite accounts, and why?
My favorite is @chivexp. He is an incredible cinematographer, and I feel something within every photo he posts. I know that still photographers try to tell stories with their images, but with cinematography you are always embedded in a world of sights, sounds, and feelings. It’s always stories, and that comes out on the feeds of filmmakers. @astro_terry was fun to follow while he was on the ISS. I mean come on, outer space! In general I like all kinds of feeds, I follow hundreds of people and find myself invested in their lives. To me it matters.