By: Jen Merrill
“Not all those who wander are lost.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Rings
Amanda Mustard, 22, knows the true meaning beyond Tolkien’s famed phrase.
In fact, no words could be truer for this vagabond photographer.
After graduating high school in 2008, the Lewisberry native wandered her way up to New York to work odd jobs instead of committing her time and energy to a college education.
During that same time, she vacationed throughout Egypt, Ireland and South America.
Photography started to become a heavier presence in her life, and her desire to document became intertwined with her desire to travel.
She got back in touch with fellow Red Land High School graduate Hannah Rothermel, and after numerous discussions over Maple Donuts, the two ladies decided to drop everything and travel until they couldn’t travel anymore.
“In September 2011, we quit our jobs, packed up our lives indefinitely and traveled to Egypt, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia for about five months,” explains Mustard.
Her desire to pursue photojournalism encouraged her to make the leap. “If I was going to give it a shot, I was going to give it my attention every minute of every day.”
Throughout her time abroad, Mustard used her camera to document the 2011 Bangkok flood as well as the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution that same year.
She and Rothermel also spent time living in Friendship Village, a community of third-generation Agent Orange victims located in northern Vietnam.
The occupants suffer with mental and physical disorders caused by the spraying of dangerous herbicides over Vietnam and Laos during the Vietnam War.
Mustard created a photo story to help document the harsh surroundings and lack of progress enveloping this forgotten group of people.
For the past year, Mustard has resided in Cairo, Egypt. Her days are spattered with an occasional wedding to photograph or commercial project, but she spends most of her time documenting protests, clashes and other news subjects for multiple wire agencies.
Her work has been featured on The Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, Vice, Mother Jones and PDN Magazine, amongst others.
“The reality of these clashes is usually confined to a few streets,” explains Mustard, who often expresses frustration with how the American media portrays the political unrest in Egypt.
“It’s the equivalent of there being a few hundred young men throwing rocks on City Island when life carries on normally on either side of the Susquehanna. It’s normally very consolidated.”
Mustard’s latest trip was to Nanjing, China, where she shot a photo story focused on the fewer-than 200 survivors of the Nanjing Massacre that occurred 75 years ago.
Driven by her passion to educate people on this horrendous historical event, she raised money through Kickstarter to fund her project and then jumped in headfirst.
“I’m always looking for untold stories, and it blew my mind that, largely, the West is unaware of one of the most barbaric genocides of modern history.
It’s a vital piece of world history that got overlooked amidst the events in Europe during World War II,” explains Mustard. “I hope, upon my return to the U.S., to have a gallery show and give presentations for organizations and schools.”
Though she has plans to return to the States this summer, Mustard has a hard time pinpointing where and how she’ll spend the rest of her life. Her vagrant spirit takes over.
“I have absolutely no clue where I’ll end up, and in this line of work, that’s probably what I’ll be saying for the rest of my life,” Mustard decides. “And I’m totally OK with that.”