Balancing Life: Maddy Minnis on iPhone Photography and Nomad Life

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Maddy Minnis, also known as @mongobbq to her followers, is an Instagram favorite among outdoor enthusiasts. Minnis has a unique way of capturing the unique rock formations, campsites and loneliness of the American West, adding her own brand of humor and sense of subtle adventure.

Minnis has two go-to items for every exploration. During New Mexico’s cold, snowy, high desert winters, she doesn’t leave home without her Danner Mountain 600 Weatherized Boots or her iPhone camera. The high desert is loaded with extremes, and Minnis’ Danner boots are compatible with the vast variety of challenges she can encounter on any given day. Minnis can tromp over cacti without a second thought, climb muddy clay hills, cross icy rivers and traverse snowfields. Having a pair of reliable, warm boots to tackle drastic weather patterns, and capture photos, is non-negotiable for Minnis.

We caught up with Minnis to learn how she wound up in New Mexico, her photography style, why she prefers using her iPhone camera and how she balances life on and off the road.

When did you start traveling around the West?

I moved to New Mexico in 2013, and my inner nomad was immediately unleashed. I’d always had [nomadic] tendencies. I’d bounced around the East Coast for years. It’s a whole new game in the West, though, and I was so ready to play.

What is it about New Mexico that keeps bringing you back?

New Mexico is known as the land of both enchantment and entrapment. Living in New Mexico allows me to work as a motion graphics artist for clients globally while also having some of the most beautiful and wild scenery just outside my door. This state can feel so timeless and untouchable at times, like an old friend. It feels like home.

How would you describe your photography?

Environmental and experiential. I’m captivated by the immaculate balance of color and form that I find in nature. I shoot a lot of landscapes because I’m moved to capture my journey to and experience in these places. My intention is not to portray something unattainable or otherworldly but something we’re all part of.

You take most of your photos on your iPhone. Why is that your favorite medium?

The long answer is I’m more interested in the adventure than taking pictures. I don’t want photography to impede my experience or take me out of the moment. The less equipment to interfere in the process, the better. The short answer is it fits in my sports bra.

What challenges come with switching between life on the road and life at home so often?

Everything is a challenge, but that’s part of what drives me to do it. As soon as one lifestyle becomes too comfortable, I start feeling the itch to switch things up. It’s a constant balance of acquiring and letting go, but I’ve embraced that transient nature. Regardless, the transition itself is always challenging.

Social and financial priorities shift depending on where and how I’m living, and it takes a while to settle into them. I was still sleeping in my sleeping bag a month after moving into my current home. I’ve only just started using my stove and dressing in normal clothes every day. When I’m traveling, it can be a struggle to get into a productive work schedule, as I’ve never had a proper vanlife setup.

It’s also hard saying goodbye to a community you’ve grown into. However, nothing is permanent, so I’m learning not to hold onto anything too tightly. Sometimes, I need to feel my roots; sometimes, I need to feel my wings. I think the ideal would be to just own a home and travel at will from that base.

Why have you hesitated to take up photography as a career?

My first job as a photographer was shooting in-house marketing and product photography, and it felt pretty devoid of all the things I loved about taking pictures. It almost pushed me to maximize my weekends and dive into environmental photography as a strictly personal project.

My best and most enjoyable work is made under conditions that focus on the journey over the destination. I travel and hike because I love it, not in order to take pictures, and I don’t want my relationship with those experiences to change.

That said, I’m now able to take on jobs that might not be financially rewarding but will give me the kind of experiences I’m after. As long as I have some other external form of income, I can continue exploring photography without sacrificing what I love about it.

This story first appeared in RANGE Magazine Issue 10, which is dedicated to the idea of progress. Get your hands on a copy HERE.

Photos by Maddy Minnis. Photos of Maddy by Brandon Soder.

XX Jeff Thrope