He did! ... so I did.

By: Bernd Wechner
© March 1, 2000

He did! ... so I did.

He did! ... so I did.

Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: March 1, 2000

Well, he wrote it. A book I'd dreamed of, if on a smaller scale than the dream itself. But he did it. He really did it. I was so stunned, I have to admit, to find a soul with a dream like mine, and the energy to attack it. He did! So I called him. Right away. I did ... so I did.

... so I did.

What can I say. Here I was thumbing my way around the south east of Australia catching up with the shadows of my own past, friends long lost, when it struck me I should really drop into the library and see if anything new has cropped up about hitching - this intimate passion of mine. And there it was, a brand new book ... "... so I did".

I put the order in, and laid back for 20 minutes (as is the fashion in State libraries, where the shelves are all in basements or attics or warehouses and books are fetched with call slips ...) hacking the catalog terminals for free web surfing (getting harder all the time as the librarians cotton on to firewall technology and such) until it arrived.

Giulio Saggin, a fellow Australian, had harboured the dream for 5 years. He'd never hitch-hiked in his life, but was an ardent photographer slumming in Edinburgh, when the idea struck him, that he could hitch around Australia and photograph all his drivers. I dreamt the same dream, with the whole world in mind, some 3 years ago, and called to arms any who might realise it. And then there was Giulio.

Now I had in mind a candid portrayal of faces mainly, it's faces that fascinate me. And the faces, across many cultures, of people still prepared, in this world of escalating paranoia to invite a stranger into their lives, would make a portrait of humanity I'd find difficult to better. But I'd always wondered what I'd do with people who just didn't want to be photographed - the camera shy.

Now Giulo is a photographer, of no small talent at that, and his focus wasn't so much on faces as art, and he found little trouble granting the camera shy the facial discretion they were after, as they blended into most elegant compositions. Of which the cover shot is but one (above).

He hitched all the way around Australia in about 70 rides in just over 8 months, and documented 53 of them, each with a page of text and a full page photo of the driver(s). Not only are his photos wonderful, but he's not short of talent with the pen either. His stories are frank yet delicately respectful of even the most contrasting of personalities, and he has the most impressive talent of extracting from almost everyone their full name, origin and life story ... Seems he was a born hitch-hiker.

Well, as I said, I caught up with Giulio, first on the phone, then by email, and couldn't help but lay a few questions on him. Most of all, for someone that had never hitched before, I couldn't help but wonder how this experienc had changed his views:

    my attitiude toward hitches/hitching has definitely changed. If I never hitch again I won't be bothered, but I know it can be done - my hitching exploits were mainly done as a means to an end - the publication of my 5 year dream, "...so I did" - also, I won't even be able to drive past a hitcher again. Having been there it would be criminal if I didn't stop.

And of course, I couldn't help but notice his book was self published. He's not alone in that. A good few books on hitching are self published. I'm not sure it it's just difficult to interest publishers in the deal, or if hitchers are more inclined to go it alone. Who's to say. Still I was curious to know how Giulio went about popularising a book he had to pick up himself from the printery:

    I am doing everything by myself. I send copies of the book to media organisations, follow this up with phone calls and kind of hassle them (nicely) to see if they will run an article/do an interview etc. As for the bookstores, the same applies and then I send them however many copies they want. I've found websites for 3 of the major bookstore chains and in one case, I go about sending copies of "...so I did" to each of the stores. In other cases I have to go through headquarters interstate (I'm waiting to hear back from a couple of national chains). I am literally running my publicity office and distribution warehouse out of my bedroom. I've currently got "...so I did" stocked by over 60 stores throughout Australia and hope to have that number over 100 within a short time. The book can be bought through my website, although (unfortunately) I can't do any credit card sales - only cheque/money order/cash.

Now I don't really need to ask Giulio any more hitching questions, so what about his camera style (I mean I might still like to do this on a global basis some day):

    I carried 2 Nikon FM2 bodies - one with a 24mm lens and the other with a 50mm lens. One body had FP4 (125ASA) film and the other had Neopan 1600ASA film in it, for low light situations. Both lenes had orange filters to darken the sky.

    As I only had a small bag for all my camera equipment and film, I couldn't shoot roll after roll of film. As a result I usually tried to use about half a dozen frames on each hitch. Sometimes I used less, sometimes more. I normally had an idea of what I wanted to do before I photographed my hitches and usually relied on one idea for each hitch. It was rare that I used more than one idea for each hitch.

    The 'book' was always going to be B&W - not that I have anything against colour, but B&W has so much more mood and texture.

    As for doing it with a pocket camera - you could get some really lovely, natural, spontaneous shots. It didn't appeal to me but that isn't to say that it couldn't and shouldn't be done.

And then of course, what did he think of my idea:

    Initially your article hit a nerve with the idea to hitch around the world photographing everyone and their car - the same idea that is ...so I did, but then I realised that I am never going to do a world version of ...so I did, so I didn't really care.

So, cool, the global theme is still open, any other takers? Get out there and do it!

Full tracing details for the diligent (do Giulio a favour ... get this one):

.... so I did
Giulio Saggin
Self Published, 1999
ISBN: 0-646-37505-9
P.O. Box 1922, Milton Business Centre, Queensland 4064, Australia

Giulio's trying to get this book into every Dymocks and Collins bookstore around Australia - as well as nearly all good independents, including all Mary Ryan's in southeast Queensland. He should have it in 150-200 stores within a couple of weeks - including out of the way places like Broome, Lorne and Margaret River.

The international marketplace is still open!

AUS.95 from the stores
AUS.95 delivered to anywhere in Australia
AUS.95 (cheque only alas) delivered for anywhere else in the world.

If you're feeling generous and want to express gratitude for the work presented here, by all means donate some money.