John grew up in Hong Kong, the son of a missionary. Before becoming a commercial photographer he was a radio disc jockey, oil field roustabout, pizza delivery guy and funeral home attendant. Now he’s selling everything he owns and is leaving the country for a couple of years at least.
Katherine Tanney: Like most people with homes, you bought a lot of stuff over the years, even collected groups of things like ceramic suns and little decorative spheres that sit on stands. Now you’re getting rid of everything. Care to comment?
John Langford: In my 30s I acquired photo gear for my business and a house to live in. In my 40s I acquired creature comforts and beautiful artwork. But with all that stuff, you gotta maintain it, insure it, repair it, dust it and remember where you put it. My 50s are gonna be about simplifying, streamlining, traveling. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how little attachment I feel to my stuff. Saying goodbye to friends is going to be much more difficult.
Tanney: What is your plan?
Langford: Plan? What plan?
I’ll be traveling to the places I’ve always wanted to visit, starting with Cuba. No set time frame. No definite itinerary. Write, photograph, have adventures, be a vagabond, take chances, face the boogey man, step through the door to the other side. And find a way to contribute to others along the way.
Tanney: What will you say when people ask, “Where do you live?”
Langford: I live here.
Tanney: What didn’t you sell?
Langford: Only what I can fit in one bag of clothes, and one bag of cameras. Everything else I sold or gave away.
Tanney: You know a lot of people in Austin. I guess you have something of a reputation as a playboy or a commitment phobe.
Langford: Oh really? Do you have their contact info?
Tanney: Do you worry about being lonely once you leave your many friends behind?
Langford: I rarely feel lonely. I’m a fairly out-going guy, and find it easy to meet people and make friends. I enjoy my own company and always have plenty of things to do. Traveling will give me more time to write, shoot photos for my own pleasure, and just sit and think.
Tanney: A lot of people fantasize about drifting, unfettered, around the world, untying themselves from their possessions and their constructed persona, and seeing who they might be in a completely different context. Is it possible you’ve romanticized the journey you’re about to begin?
Langford: I’m a romantic for sure. But I won’t be drifting. This trip isn’t about hanging around on the beach smoking hash until 3 in the morning with german vagabonds in their 20s. At least not more than once a week. I want to stay off the beaten path, become fluent in spanish, immerse myself in local culture, and avoid tourists as much as possible. And find a way to make a difference along the way, whether with my photography or by volunteering my time or by some other means that will present itself.
Tanney: Is this really about expanding your sexual horizons, getting to sample women of other cultures before it’s too late and you’re not attractive anymore?
Langford: WTF? Have you been reading Cosmo? And, btw, being funny is ALWAYS attractive!
Tanney: Are you planning to document your travels and share them, say, on Facebook? Or do you plan to drop off the grid?
Langford: I have a blog called CosmicCandidCamera.com. My criterion for posting to Facebook (and I wish this applied to everyone) is to inform or entertain… not “I just woke up from a nap” or “I have a urinary tract infection”….both of which I have actually seen on facebook. UTI? TMI!!
Tanney: You’re a photographer. Will you always be a photographer or do you plan to participate more than observe on this grand adventure?
Langford: Of course there will be days when I’m a photographer. But that’s not my primary objective. I’m embarking on this trip as a student, an adventurer and hopefully as someone who contributes to others.