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Former Advocate photographer living large after downsizing

GOING UNDERGROUND:

September 01, 2012|By TODD KLEFFMAN | tkleffman@amnews.com
  • Former Advocate photographer Dan Price lounges in his tiny underground home in Oregon.
Former Advocate photographer Dan Price lounges in his tiny underground home in Oregon.

It would be easy to assume that life took a crazy bad turn for Dan Price after he left Danville 22 years ago. He now lives by himself in a hole in the ground in the outback of northeastern Oregon.

“I went from living in a mansion in Kentucky that had like five bedrooms and four bathrooms to living in a little cabin, then to a teepee, to this little hobbit hole that’s about the size of one of those bathrooms,” Price said in a recent telephone conversation from his subterranean home outside of Joseph, Ore. “It’s been very interesting to deconstruct the whole system.”

It’s with great pride, not shame, that Price talks about his most humble of homes. He’s so proud of the place, in fact, that he’s written a book about it, called, simply, “My Tiny House,” in which he encourages readers to downsize their lives, big-time, just like he did.

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“I’ve been doing this for 20 years now,” he said. “And I’ve discovered that by consuming less, by making things simpler, that my life is just way better. I’m very much a free man.”

Price, 55, worked as a photographer for The Advocate-Messenger from 1984 to 1990, where he developed a style that was more artistic than photojournalistic. Many of his best images were captured using the small Leica camera that dangled around his neck, barely noticed alongside the Nikon with giant lens he also carried. He used the small camera to steal pictures when his subjects were unaware they were being photographed as they waited for him to bring out his big camera.

Price also created “shots” magazine during his time at The Advocate. Using the paper’s copy machine after hours, he hand-stapled together the first editions of “shots” that featured photocopies of pictures — his own and others’ — he found interesting and offbeat. The magazine grew to receive submissions from around the world, including from renown photographers such as Robert Frank and Mary Ellen Mark.

While in town, Price, his wife Lynn and their two small children lived in a house on Pumpkin Run Road and later in the historic McClure-Barbee House next door to The Advocate, the “mansion” mentioned earlier.

By 1990, Price’s passion for photography had mostly consumed itself, replaced by a desire to be unshackled from the work-a-day grind of laboring to pay a mortgage and other bills that most other folks accept as part of life.

“I was pretty much done taking pictures by then,” he said. “My goal was to find out how free can I get.”

Price returned to his native Oregon and began his experiment in spartan living, eventually working his way down to the underground dwelling he writes about in “My Tiny House.”

Fittingly, the book isn’t an 800-word treatise on less-is-more living. Rather, it’s 21 colorful pages of Price’s gentle, hand-lettered prose, his cartoonish illustrations and a few photos that offer some bare-boned advice and instruction about building an 80-square-foot abode with basic tools and less than $100 in materials, and becoming unencumbered from the rat race.

Chapter 4, for example, is devoted to “Just some of the many options you have when planning your escape from mortgages and rents that can leave you working your life away and draining all of your creative energies.”

Price’s isn’t the only tiny house out there. He called the move to get small “a phenomena” championed by those who want to conserve resources and lessen their impact on the enviroment while enjoying a less tethered way of life.

“Just Google ‘tiny house’ and you’ll find a whole bunch of stuff going on all around the world,” he said.

Price always has kept his creative valve open. After tiring of photography and leaving Danville, he began devoting his attention to Moonlight Chronicles, an illustrated journal containing Price’s sketches and observations as he roamed about. Moonlight Chronicles helped him land a dream gig working as staff artist for Simple Shoes. The magazine became the now defunct company’s catalogue, allowing Price to pursue his hobo artist lifestyle while earning a healthy paycheck.

“I was just a guy bumming around, looking at the world in a simple way,” he said. “For me, that was perfect: an artist sponsored by a corporation for eight years, making good money.”

Price currently is putting the finishing touches on the 77th issue of Moonlight Chronicles, which he says may be the last one he prints on paper. The next one, like “My Tiny House,” may only exist in digital form. It’s a change he holds no romantic notions about making.

“I’m not a Luddite without a computer or a cell phone. I embrace a lot of the technology. It makes things easier. I try to take the best of both worlds,” he explained.

Subscriptions to Chronicles provide some income for Price, as do occasional art shows and odd jobs. He was pleased that sales of “My Tiny House,” released three weeks go, already had brought in $500.

“I don’t have to generate a whole bunch of income to maintain my lifestyle,” he said.

That lifestyle includes a lot of reading in his hobbit hole, outdoor adventure and travel. For the last four years, Price has locked up his home in mid-October, when the chill starts in the Oregon mountains, and headed to Hawaii for six months of surfing, returning home in May.

“I totally have had an endless summer for the past four years,” he said. “Who wouldn’t love that?”

Surf’s up. Start digging.

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