Witnessing Humanity adapt, in real time.  

“Without a means to objectively document present events at the human level, any society is destined to repeat the same mistakes, often at a very high cost in human lives and culture.” Mark Abouzeid

Since September 2021, the Real Lives team has traveling by van throughout Europe to document and witness the numerous ways in which real people and communities are adapting to the pandemic and climate crises.

“The State of Europe” expedition has taken the conversation out of the data newsrooms, off the zoom chats, onto the road and into communities throughout Europe. By capturing the first-hand experiences and stories of artisans, artists, change catalysts and underrepresented communities as they adapt, we are building a much better understanding of what will be the longterm societal impact of the crises of this era. 

Continuing our collaboration with the Institute of Ecotechnics, the project is building upon the Oral History Archives, expanding the focus to include adaptation strategies of creatives/artisans, impact on climate sustainability, impact on immigration/mobility, new forms of racism (country of origin pandemic response), lifestyle changes as a result, and, oral histories at a time when elders are dying en masse.

After 12 months and over 3,000 kilometers in Italy, the team has amassed a library of interviews, experiences, cultural knowledge and living books. Now, it is time to commence phase 2, traveling to Spain, France and, ultimately, Portugal as we enter a new wave of the Pandemic and face growing social/political change.

The historical context

During the Great Depression, two women and eight men, including Dorothea Lange, were sent out with their cameras to document America in a time of crisis. What they brought back was an indelible record of a period of struggle, strength and adaptation. Those works have defined the way we understand one of greatest societal transformations of that century and the largest internal migration in America’s history.

Photo by Dorothea Lange, Farm Security Administration photographer

After WWII, Margaret Bourke White and many other reknowned photographers were driven to do the same for post-war Europe.  Their work helped the world understand the herculean task of rebuilding cities levelled to the ground and rebuilding cultures devoid of entire generations.

With the dramatic changes in journalism over the past decade, data and distance (zoom) journalism having replaced documentary observation, very little objective coverage of the current upheaval is actually taking place.  Left unchanged, we may never truly know the longterm impact of the Pandemic on communities and how they must adapt to climate change realities.

The expedition, in real time

The Team

Sophie is an art historian, cultural manager and artisan from Vienna. Mark is a photojournalist, storyteller and documentary filmmaker. Together, they work with indigenous, artisan and underrepresented communities around the globe.

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Adapting Lives

We each had a life we were pursuing, Plan A: careers, homes, vacations, communities and dreams. But, the world has changed, our situations have changed, and we have changed. Now, we are trying Plan B and embracing a life of adaptation.

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Fading Lights

The sheep herder who makes rope for chairs out of palm fronds while awaiting his flock. The marine painter whose knowledge of ships and sailing spans the globe. The bee keeper whose symbiotic relationship with his hives protects them from collapse.

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Go behind the scenes with the expedition team as they evolve and adapt to #vanlife, navigate pandemic lockdowns and protocols, capture meaningful stories and traditional knowledge, and marvel in discovery of place and culture.

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Thanks to the support of TravelMap, you can follow along in real time, read highlights and enjoy our personal photo moments. Every stop is recorded including lists of interviews collected, major events and our own blog posts.

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