Documentary, Film

Review: The New Documentary on Nicholas Syracuse’s Travels Across North America

All images © Sam Roden and Nick Hartanto, and Nicholas Syracuse, courtesy of the artist

Completed in early 2016, Sam Roden’s and Nick Hartanto’s TRAVELER, offers an intimate view of the photographic processes of Nicholas Syracuse.

TRAVELER, the new doc that first premiered at the Ashland Independent Film Festival in April, presents the life of Nicholas Syracuse, whose wanderlust led him to a 20-year journey on the American backgrounds, from Maine to Key West, Florida.

Syracuse only started his photography projects two years ago, documenting the life of travelers; drifters, train hoppers, hobos and runaways.

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Syracuse says the people who interest him are those who are “seeking something, are out here for a reason, kind of searching for some transformative experience”.

His images, he says, “seem to always be in motion, luring him towards the freedom of the travelers, even as his loved ones call him back from the road,” say Sam Roden and Nick Hartanto, the film’s directors.

He sees these travelers from a new perspective. According to the directors, his artistic process is: “No deadlines, no projects, no schedules, no mass audience.”

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TRAVELER portrays the close relationship between the photographer and his subjects. There exists, the directors say “a deep sense of camaraderie between Syracuse and his subjects”. He befriends the people in his photos to ensure he understands them before he represents them through his photography.

In the film, Syracuse talks of the parts of him that want to travel all the time. “Why am I not doing this all the time?” he asks. “Why can’t I be out here, doing this all the time? Sometimes I wonder if I’m being completely truthful to myself, to not on the road all the time… It’s definitely where a lot of my strength and comfort is… I’m very much in love with living and being here. There’s nothing I wanna do more than just keep living and experiencing life.”

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But the film also presents the struggles of Syracuse’s photography. Although “Syracuse’s life is quiet and simple,” say the directors, he, like most photographers, must contend with the challenge in the duality of art and reality – being on the road and taking photographs, while also trying to maintain a regular life, with his wife, in New York City.

Although he wants to be on the road for good, he understands that if he does do that, the relationships between him and his friends and family will never be the same, and this thought always motivates him to come home.

“What I want is just more time,” Nick says. “I always feel like I need three lifetimes, you know? … There’s a lot I’d like to do and experience… I want all those different aspects of life.”

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However, “his photography is a life’s work”, say the directors, “and will not be completed until he disappears over the horizon, like so many of those he has captured on film.”

Learn more about TRAVELER here, and find out more about Nicholas Syracuse here.