Profile of a LGBT wedding photographer who loves living in a van with her family

[Peter Savodnik, a filmmaker and founder of Stateless Media, made a short film about Catherine Abegg, a woman who lives in a van with her husband and newborn child. Catherine is a celebrated LGBT wedding photographer.]

How did you meet Michael?

Michael & I met and immediately fell in love about seven years ago, at a bar, and he met the criterium on this little list that I had written of what I was looking for in a partner. On that serendipitous list, I had stated that I needed a man with a VW van; which sounds absurd, but I always thought families with vans always looked like they were having so much fun. I also knew that if someone owns a van, they tend to be adventurous, and either be handy, have a semi-disposable income, or maybe even both… and all of that sounded just fine to me.

How did you know he was your soul mate?

That first night we met, we talked all night and all the way until the sun rose; and we've just never stopped talking. We fell in love within days, but it wasn't until he met Madeline a few weeks later that everything really fell into place.

Why did you guys choose to live in a van?

We have spent many days & many miles together in a collection of different vans throughout the years; most notably in our prized 1990 Vanagon Syncro, named Priscilla. When Mads started to reach an age that her future outside of our home was becoming an impending reality, Michael & I decided that it made most sense to move into our van once she graduated high school so that we could travel full time. So, over the course of about two years of planning, Priscilla transformed from a Syncro tin-top to a Syncro-Aventurewagen-Westfalia with a Subaru engine conversion… all in the name of becoming an over-landing rig that we could live. Michael is an accomplished mechanic with the curious mind of an artist, and did all of the work himself, save for the engine conversion which we trusted to our friends over at Northwesty.

As the end of Madeline's school years were drawing nearer, we were more & more ready to move into our van full time… and then a few weeks before Mads turned 18 years old, we got the surprise of a lifetime & found out that we are expecting a second child! We spent some time considering if we should settle back down & buy a home again, but quickly realized that starting this new & unexpected chapter in our life only made sense in our beloved van.

We don't have a purpose or platform that we represent, but we do believe in living a life of togetherness, mindfulness, and adventure… and being in our van only strengthens that belief for us.

How is Haakan enjoying the van?
As far as we know, he loves it! All children want & need is to be loved, and I'm sure having
us so physically close to him makes him pretty happy. He's a very content child who eats & sleeps well, but I'm not sure how much that has to do with living in a van… but who knows?

Do you have van-wi-fi?

We don't have wifi outside of our iphones, but so far that hasn't been a problem.

We're told Madeline is a photographer. You must be proud. What does this say about your relationship?

Madeline is an excellent photographer. I didn't teach her much, but she often came to both Michael & I for critique (and praise) of her work, and I know that's had a positive impact on her progress. I like to think that she comes to us because she values our opinions and trusts that we are proud of her & want the best for her, which says everything about our relationship.

How do her images differ from yours?

Madeline is a better photographer than I am, which is what every parent wants, right? A better version of themselves?! Her images are fearless, imaginative, and tell a story with equal parts subtlety & strength. I'm a well-seasoned photographer having shot for that last 21 years, but my work is more traditional. I don't want to downplay my own photography because I think it's quite good and I'm great at storytelling with my imagery, but the heart of my work shows up much differently than from hers. I'm her biggest fan, obviously.

What's your all-time favorite wedding you've photographed?

I've shot so many great weddings!!! My favorites have always been where you can really feel the love & respect between the couple as well as with their families. However, I do have a wedding that stands out above the rest, that involved a few days of camping, and a couple who canoed into their ceremony and jumped into the lake together after their vows were exchanged… and the celebration that night included campfire, dancing, and skinny-dipping. It was so much fun, and broke all the rules in the best way possible.

Do you have any regrets?