Andrew Knapp Is Still Cruising
The Insta-famous photographer and #vanlife pioneer on how a game of hide and seek with his dog gleaned him digital fame and a book deal.
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Many of us have had the fantasy of hitting the open road and never looking back. The excitement of adventure and waking up every day with somewhere new to explore is a thrilling concept. But unlike so many of us, Andrew Knapp actually acted on this dream. For the last decade, the photographer and visual storyteller has spent much of his time living on the road, out of a van — although, the lifestyle is far from glamorous. “Often I feel like I’m just trying to keep the scaffolding of my life from falling apart,” says Knapp. Luckily, he’s had some furry companions riding shotgun to help him keep it together.
Momo, a Border Collie, was not only his earliest traveling buddy but also his muse. As the pair ventured through various cities, landscapes, and countrysides, Momo’s elusive nature became the focal point of Knapp’s work. His photography developed into a high-art interpretation of a much cuter version of Where’s Waldo. As Knapp captured the beauty of nature, Momo could be found subtly poking his head out in the distance. The style quickly caught on leading to a Find Momo book series and, of course, a huge Instagram following. Sadly, Momo passed away last summer, but his spirit and enthusiasm for slickly sneaking in front of the lens lives on through Knapp’s continued travels with pups, Boo and Yaya. The artist took a quick pit stop to chat about life on the road, Momo’s legacy, and inspiring kids to get outdoors.
How long have you been on the road? Was this always something you wanted to do?
I’ve spent about half of my time on the road since around 2010. Of course being “out there” always seems more appealing than staying still or having an apartment, but lately it’s been more out of necessity, as good housing is more and more difficult to find. I’m grateful that I have the option to be “free,” though it does come with its own challenges.
What’s a normal day like for you?
Often I feel like I’m just trying to keep the scaffolding of my life from falling apart. But superficially, when I’m on the road, my mornings start with bringing the dogs out for a run. I’m usually somewhere that’s safe for them to roam. And then a quick light breakfast (yogurt, cereal, fruit), and my coffee ritual, which is just an AeroPress, but I love taking my time and enjoying the process, and of course the coffee. I’ll usually explore a bit, poke my head around whatever neat geological feature or dog-friendly jaunt might be nearby. And then I go deal with the scaffolding.
Tell me about how your dogs — Momo, Boo, and now Yaya — came into your life.
I found Momo on Craigslist in 2008. He changed my life. I had just bought my own house (which I sold five years later), so it was a good time to get a dog. Later in 2019, I found Boo online at a rescue in Texas called Furever United Rescue. Yaya came to me soon after I lost Momo. It turns out he’s Momo’s nephew, so he had to be part of my family.
What are their personalities like?
Border Collies are typically hyperactive and always busy. Momo was not this. He was chill, with all the smarts. I loved him. Boo is a bodybuilder and sneaks out while I’m sleeping to go to the dog gym and trains with dog weights. I love him. Yaya is Momo’s bratty little nephew. I lovingly tell people he’s the worst dog I’ve ever had. I can equally say he’s my third-best dog. He’s been the hardest to train by far, but I love him so dearly and we’ve come a long way. He really completes my little family.
It’s not uncommon to face challenges when introducing a new dog into a living situation with an established pet. Did you meet any unique hurdles given the somewhat tighter quarters?
In 2019, I tried to stay still completely. With Momo getting older, it became too difficult for him to travel. This is when I adopted Boo, so it was really the easiest situation imaginable. I was living in a guesthouse on two acres of land where the dogs could safely hang out outside all day. It was a dream, really.
I’m assuming Boo and Yaya like to travel; how have they taken to the lifestyle overall?
They love it. Boo tells me when I’m driving too much, which is equally helpful and annoying. Yaya sleeps the second the van starts moving. When I picked up Yaya at nine weeks old, we were already on a road trip. We camped that night somewhere in Algonquin Park in Ontario. It was stressful. But since day one he just plops over when I start driving and he sleeps.
What was the inspiration behind the Find Momo book series?
Momo invented the game by hiding in the woods while we were out on our daily trail walks. I brought the camera and the capitalist agenda. I can’t believe how far it’s gone, and I’m really excited to keep creating more books with Yaya and Boo.
Much of your work in the series and on Instagram features images of Momo seemingly hiding with a scenic backdrop. When did you discover this side of Momo and how has the style changed with Yaya and Boo?
I grew up in Northern Ontario where the trees are small, the rocks are black, and the land is vast. You really have to get creative but you learn that beauty can be found anywhere. Brian Eno said, “Beautiful things grow out of sh*t.” Later, Momo started playing hide and seek on our walks, and it really added a whole new layer to my photos. I loved that it kept people’s attention a little longer — that people were exploring my photos and really connecting with the environments I was capturing. I still capture Yaya and Boo hiding in scenes occasionally, while I’m traveling. Sometimes I see a scene I can’t deny the attention, with safe little hiding spots for dogs, I get really excited when it works out.
Did Momo ever hide too well to the point you couldn’t immediately find him?
Not so much — I had an untetherable bond with him. However, when I’m looking through my old photos, I sometimes forget if Momo was in a photo at all, so I find myself looking. Sometimes I think he’s not in there and then I spot him; his little face surprises me.
Tell me about the new one, Let’s Find Momo Outdoors. What inspired this specific concept?
It really matters to me to do work that pulls from my values. This is really hard when on the surface you’re just a guy who takes cute photos of dogs. I do value aspirational travel, but sometimes that’s not enough. Since I was connecting with children, I wanted to give parents the opportunity to introduce their kids to outdoorsy things. I pitched it to Quirk, my publisher, and they were down. I ended up getting most of the items in the book donated, and later auctioned them all off to raise funds for Psychiatric Assistance Dogs Foundation (PADS). The winner of the canoe ended up donating it to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society. It’s the little unquantifiable things like this that really make my work feel like it has some kind of value.
I’m sure most people who have followed you and your journey appreciate — possibly envy — the freedom of your experiences. But are there any unique challenges of living on the road, especially in regards to taking care of dogs?
Sometimes there is nowhere to poop. Another time Yaya had a parasite which meant he had to poop every hour. There were some messes. In a small space, this isn’t fun. On the flip side, it’s good to be right next to the door at all times; my third-floor apartment would have been impossible. So, usually things to do with poop equal bad.
Aside from that, traveling with a dog is absolutely more challenging. For me, it’s worth it; my life revolves around them. For some people it would probably be too much. Sometimes you have to forego eating at a restaurant you really want to check out, or just can’t go somewhere because it doesn’t allow dogs or because it’s too hot or too cold outside to leave them in the van. But again, for me, it’s worth every challenge.
On the flip side, what is the plethora of benefits?
I guess life presents challenges and benefits regardless. If you want to life a full and beautiful life you really don’t need much. A little garden, some books, someone to share it with and probably a dog. But then we see what other people are doing and think we might want that too, so we hustle and we work hard and we get rewarded with these beautiful views. Meanwhile we traded a lot to get there, in terms of time and energy. Often we fail and we feel the weight of the world like it’s all over. And sometimes we choose to give up and find peace in that garden. Other times we choose to continue beyond the failure and seek those rewards. I suppose many a path have a plethora of benefits.
What’s next for Andrew Knapp? Anywhere you haven’t traveled yet that you’re itching to see?
We’re working on at least two more books! I’m really excited. The first is a children’s book with Yaya and Boo in the spirit of our other children’s books, with the dogs hiding in the pictures — and the next is a children’s book about grief, which I’m illustrating myself, that’ll be cathartic. Both are going to be extremely challenging and take up a lot of my year. Geographically, we’ll probably spend the summer in Canada. If we don’t find a place to live by Octoberish, we’ll probably head down to Mexico, or maybe hop over to Portugal.
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Sean Zucker is an editor at The Wildest whose work has also been featured in Points In Case, The Daily Drunk, Posty, and WellWell. He recently adopted a Pit Bull named Banshee whose work has been featured on the kitchen floor and behavioral issues rival his own.