Amanda Björn has always had an innate interest in the relationship between bodies and space. Splitting time between Havana, Miami, and Los Angeles, the artist has explored her connection to these places through photography, music, film, and expressions of movement — and now she’s encouraging others to do the same.
Hoping to foster stronger bonds between artists and communities, Amanda has started leading all-women art trips within Latin America. This new creative endeavor is curated for artists, dreamers, people-watchers, and storytellers. It’s not for travelers seeking packed tour buses or lavish hotels but, rather, for those in search of moments tucked between side streets and food stalls.
Wanting to learn more about these intimate art trips, we sat down to ask Amanda a few questions.
Can you tell me a bit about your personal journey with photography, art, and solo travel?
I have a background in theatre, art history, music, and photography, as well as a master’s degree in art curation. I used to think I had to choose one medium and devote myself completely to it, but that’s just not me. I prefer to surround myself with all kinds of tools for art-making, whether it’s a guitar or a camera. I’m interested in storytelling.
I’ve been traveling since I was just a few months old, strapped on my mother’s back! I definitely get my wanderlust from her. My first solo “trip” was when I moved to Paris for a year when I was 19. I took a year off from college to work for a film festival and study art history in the city. Halfway through, my dad sent me his Canon Ae-1 film camera and I shot everything around me obsessively (in black and white). While learning to develop and print, I became enamored with the magic of it all.
When and how did you come up with the idea of leading all-female art trips?
A decade after Paris, I accepted a dream job to travel to Cuba as an assistant for a Nat Geo photographer. I immediately fell in love with the country, visiting several times after that initial trip. With each return, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to local creatives bursting with talent — photographers, models, painters, musicians — all of whom were eager to connect with the greater art world outside the island. Those trips changed the course of my life.
At the same time, I had people following my work from the U.S. continually asking me for travel advice about Cuba. I realized that I had become a sort of bridge between these two cultures that were desperate to connect with one another. So, I wrote to several photographers who do “photo tours” in Cuba, asking for assistant jobs. None of them had open positions, and that’s when I decided I should just do my own thing catered to young women. The Instagram account @Girlgaze helped me share information about my first trip on their Instagram Stories. Within a day, my inbox was flooded with emails from women who were interested, and by the end of the week, the trip had sold out! The response was overwhelming, and I knew that I had tapped into something that artists from both countries were seeking.
What was your initial goal for the project?
My initial goal was to create the type of travel adventure that I was seeking as an artist. As a freelancer without a dictated schedule, traveling (and life in general) can be isolating and overwhelming. I wanted to create a vacation that allowed people to create and connect with other artists in the area.
Why Latin America?
My grandparents met in Miami in the 1930s and headed down to Latin America — they were both artists seeking adventure outside the States. They later became business owners and raised seven kids before eventually settling in Guatemala for the remainder of their lives.
I grew up visiting my family who had spread to several different Latin American countries, so I’ve always felt at home down there. The culture has played a huge part in my upbringing.
What exactly do you do on these trips?
Well, first off, I’ll say that this definitely isn’t your typical group tour! One of the girls who came down with me on a Cuba tour said, “It feels like you’re just visiting a friend who happens to live in Havana.” I want these experiences to feel exactly like that.
We eat at my favorite restaurants; we do photo shoots with my friends who are talented models and stylists; we visit studios of established female artists; we go on photo walks through non-touristy neighborhoods; we visit galleries and do walk-throughs with the curators… The trip is entirely about creating art. Of course, we also go out salsa dancing, swim in the ocean, and drink a mojito or two. The best part is that we share a lot with each other, and I make sure that each woman has the opportunity to talk about her own work and personal goals for the trip.
How many people do you typically bring along with you?
There are no more than 10 girls on each trip, and you definitely don’t have to be a professional photographer to join, so long as you have an interest in art, music, and sharing/connecting/traveling with other creative women. On my past few trips, I’ve had writers, painters, and curators who have left with photo inspiration for their own art. I’ve also had photographers who have worked together on jobs after the trips. These travel experiences have created a network for women artists who are seeking cultural exchange and transformation.
Can you walk me through your “arrive, share, engage, explore, transform” model?
Most tourists come and go, visiting countries through polarized windows on air-conditioned buses — or, in Cuba, they arrive on massive cruise ships that sit in the harbor polluting the water and consuming all of the resources. There is no cultural exchange. In these scenarios, the tourists just take from the country and move on.
The collaboration between artists is crucial to my travel experiences. We have so much to share and learn from one another. This curiosity is the foundation for the art that we make on these trips. I’ve also always been sensitive to photographic exploitation, so when we’re out on our photo walks, I make sure to teach the girls how to say, “May I take your photo?” in Spanish. Though there are exceptions in street photography, portraits should always be an agreement between subject and photographer.
How has your community of female creatives grown and evolved since launching this initiative?
It’s been wonderful! I feel like I’ve made so many new, strong female friendships this past year. I’m grateful to the women who have chosen to travel with me, and I feel proud of the art they create — the growth we experience as artists pushes us out of our comfort zones.
Do you have any trips coming up?
I have two trips this month (Cuba and Guatemala), and more to come! Anyone can email me at [email protected] to learn more, or just chat!
For more information about Amanda’s art trips, visit amandabjornphotography.com.