When California musician Samantha Stollenwerck returned from a year of travel, she turned her pics into music.
Photo: Samantha Stollenwerck

NOW THAT PRINTING PHOTOS is almost obsolete, it’s inevitable that pictures get lost and forgotten in the bits and bytes of hard drives.

The trick is to do something with them. Right away. A photo book. A collage. Or, as my musician friend Samantha did, turn them into a music video: a great way to revisit or share a year-long, around-the-world adventure in a three-minute burst of color and enthusiasm.

And if it also happens to plug your music and raise money for charity, well, now you’re just overachieving.

NM: You were on the road for nearly a year — what inspired such a big trip?

SS: It was a combination of needing to get inspired as an artist and realizing that I’ve never really traveled before. I went on a trip to Antarctica with some friends, but as soon as I landed in Buenos Aires, I knew it was all over. Life is short. I went home after that trip, sold my car, a few guitars and other recording gear, rented out my apartment, closed up shop, and booked a ticket back down to South America. It happened really quickly.

I know you’re not really a photographer. What camera are these photos shot on?

A Nikon D-300 with a Tokina super wide angle and a Tamron 18-200mm. But a lot of the shots in my music video were (sad but true) from the iPhone. It was easier for me to just collage and play with the smaller images. I have so much to learn about taking photos, but one thing I did absorb was that it’s all about putting yourself in the right place and connecting with the subject. When I write music, I like to focus on one special, sometimes off-center moment in the story, and I started to see that similar focus with photography.

What did the trip teach you about yourself?

It was definitely nice to be the observer on this trip. As a musician you are always trying to grab the mic and say something. It’s way cooler to watch the world unfold before your eyes and tell a story without words, from behind the lens. I loved that part of it.

Were you playing music along the way?

Actually, I decided to leave my guitar behind on these travels (mostly because the idea of lugging it to the base of, like, Mt. Bromo, sounded hilarious). But music still came with me. I did music therapy with a group of girls in the Philippines, girls who were victims of sex trafficking. That was incredible. I also absorbed the cultural influences around me and would love to infuse that into my next record. For instance, I loved the sound of the gayageum (a Korean folk instrument that sounds like an eerier version of slide guitar) and I loved the three-part harmonies from traditional Fijian music. I absorbed all of these things along the way.

Does the video feel more personal than a photo album?

Absolutely. Music has been my life forever, and my manager and I were always talking about doing a music video for this song showing snapshots of global moments — it’s about not taking life for granted — and this seemed perfect because I took the shots, so the story is a lot more personal.

So how does this end up raising money for a school?

Anytime you download the single off of iTunes, I match it with a donation of my choice to Pencils of Promise, an organization building schools on the ground in four developing countries to date. I have already raised the majority of my goal, but I wanted to use this video as a way to continue the conversation of education in the global sphere. Especially for young women. I don’t expect people to donate, but if I can pass on the information through my music then I thought this was a good vehicle.