In 2005, Richmond film-maker Kevin Gallagher thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, taking 24 consecutive pictures of one section of the trail each day. The six-month journey left him with 4,000 slides, which he later turned into The Green Tunnel, a film that offers a 2,000-mile thru-hiking experience in just five minutes.
What made you decide to thru-hike the A.T. in 2005? I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, so the trail was always a part of life. People hike the A.T. in transition periods. I have a typical story—I was just out of college and I had the time and opportunity to do it.
Did the trail have a lasting impact on you? It’s one of the things that has defined the course of my life. The effect hasn’t always been obvious. It’s not like I got off the trail and knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, but the trail has helped define little things, like the way I want to interact with people on a daily basis.
Movies about the A.T. are becoming more prevalent, but you decided to shoot still film. Why? I’d seen films about the culture of the trail, but I wanted to bring back a little of the experience of the trail itself. Not just about feet hurting or stinky hikers, but I wanted to impart a bit of the actual trail itself. What I wanted was to capture that sense of motion you get while hiking the trail.
And you chose stills to capture that sense of motion?Yeah. The video actually runs at 24 frames per second, which is the frame rate of film, but I wanted to shoot stills because of the rich color and texture. It’s much more tangible than digital video, which are really just ones and zeros on a computer. Now, because I shot film, I have boxes of slides I can pick up and look at. That’s cool.
A lot of people would have been tempted to take pictures of only the most gorgeous views along the trail, but your film is more honest than that. I picked a section of trail that was quintessential to that day, in an attempt to transcribe the experience of walking the A.T. I shot some stuff people would recognize, like the Guillotine, but the best view is often off to the left of the trail, or to the right of the trail. When you’re thru-hiking, you may not even pay attention to that sort of stuff after a while. You spend most of your time staring at the dirt on the ground in front of you. That’s what I wanted to capture. I did very little editing. There were some slides that were ruined because of moisture. But for the most part, I wanted to keep the rhythm of every scene change.