Daniel Dayment – A Van for All Seasons
Final-year BA (Hons) Photography student Daniel Dayment’s work centres on the relationship between humans and the land surrounding them. His most recent series, Natural Progress, explores individuals across the UK who have decided to live outside of bricks and mortar.
Fascinated by alternative ways of living, Daniel took the leap and realised a long-held ambition when he moved into a van he customised himself for his final year of study. Through his van life, Daniel has been able to spend time with individuals and communities who live closer to the land. We asked Daniel about his work, living and studying in a van and the influence that this lifestyle has on his creative practice.
What made you decide to specialise in photography?
Photography has been at the centre of my life since I was a teenager. Fascinated with capturing the spaces around me, I have always been found wandering around with a camera by my side.
My practice explores the land around us, documenting the relationship that humanity has with the natural world.
You made the decision to save money by moving into a converted Citreon Van. How has this affected your creative practice?
Living in a van was always the plan for my final year of study. The freedom allows me to travel and study and the financial side of it allows me to keep my living costs to a minimum. Keeping living costs down is important to me; it will mean that I can carry on working on my practice, post study, without earning money being at the centre of what I do.
Studying while living in the van has been great, I have been able to work on projects while living on the road. Parking up at the end of the day to watch the sunset from my bed is never a bad way to finish your day.
Elliot in his Micro Camper on Dartmoor, Devon.
What do you wish you knew about van life before you moved in?
Any change or transition that you decide upon in life is going to teach you new things about yourself and the decision that you have made. I have wanted to live this lifestyle for a long time and prepared myself pretty well with the physical and mental challenges that I thought I might face.
Van life comes with its pros and cons. The winter months have been a little tougher than I expected. Living closer to the elements, my circadian rhythm has never felt so connected to the seasons. One of the biggest struggles this winter has been fighting the urge to give my body that natural amount of rest that it craved. A lot more early nights and slow mornings became a bit of a regular during November and December.
During the summer the space that you are living in does not feel as small, you find yourself living in and outside of the van. But as the days got shorter, colder and more wet I spent more time in the van, which can get a little cramped after a few days. Although it has been a good test for the setup that I put in the van and it has made me want to change a few things around so that the next winter is more comfortable. Most people have asked me ‘don't you get cold?’, but with a diesel heater and a thick duvet I find it easier to stay warm compared to when I was living in a house.
The feeling of freedom that it has given me has been overpowering. A feeling that I have been dreaming about for a long time, nothing could have prepared me for the immense notion of travelling and adventuring from the comfort of your home.
What would you say to anyone considering van-life as an alternative to student accommodation?
As a student, I think you have to want to live the lifestyle more than focusing on the money you can save. Van life is not for everyone, you have to be prepared to go a few days without having a proper shower, improvising to achieve things you could with ease in a house and being strategic in saving water.
You have to be prepared to work a little bit harder to achieve some daily tasks. However, the reward of owning your own home while being a student, having the ability to study and travel (if your course allows you to) and not having the financial worry of paying loads of money towards rent during and after studying, I could not recommend it enough.
Hannah and George in their narrow boat, Hackney.
Has van life influenced your work?
In a way, my photography has influenced van life. I have had a fascination for alternative living for a while and my photographic practice has enabled me to spend time with communities and individuals that don't live in a ‘traditional’ way. My goal is to live a minimalist life that is kinder to the planet and van life is part of the journey that I am on to live in the most eco-friendly way possible.
The decision was heavily influenced by the idea that I could take my home anywhere and photograph the places that I spend my time in. Living in a van has enabled me to travel around the UK to work on projects while also staying on top of my studies.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on my final major project, after finishing my dissertation that explored the photographic representation of traveller communities in the UK. With a working title ‘Natural Progress’ the body of work explores individuals, communities and places that I have spent time with while living on the road. Last November, I travelled across the middle of the UK and met a variety of people who were living nomadically and land-based.
Going forward with the body of work, I intend to spend time with a land-based community to photographically document the way they live their life. The project intends to inform the audience about ways of living that are outside the mainstream, bricks and mortar way of life. Through a truthful representation my photography intends to provoke the viewer into thinking about other ways that they could live their lives. You can see more of my work on my Instagram.
Kieran and his LT35, Cornwall.
How important is the relationship you build when photographing people?
The relationship between myself and my subject is most probably the most important part of the photograph. I usually spend time with the people I photograph before I get my camera out. Asking questions about their life so that my photographs can reflect the moments that we have discussed.
While being a part of the nomadic community myself, I have something in common with the people that I am spending time with. I think this allows me to build a level of trust and photographic integrity towards the narrative that I am building. Within the short amount of time that I spent with my subjects in November, a friendship was quickly formed and that comfort put people at ease when I got the camera out and started documenting their space.
How do you think photography can influence people and what inspires you to create?
Photographic language plays a huge role in influencing its audience. Photography is all around us and is most probably one of the highest forms of media that we consume. It can give an audience something they have never seen or experienced before. It can influence new ideas and thoughts on topics that are less spoken about.
As a photographer I am inspired to create imagery that gives the viewer something that they have not seen or even thought of before. To capture stories and locations that are not accessible to all so that I am able to bring about new ideas to my audience.
What is next for you after you graduate?
After graduation, I plan to spend time travelling and working remotely from the van. My girlfriend and I are planning to spend some more time travelling around the UK before we embark on a Europe trip.
I intend to carry on photographing personal projects and documenting the experiences and places that we immerse ourselves in. Our intentions are to further explore alternative living with the aim to buy land and live off it in the future. We have a lifestyle channel called Life is a Project which can be found on Instagram, this is the space where we document our van life adventure.