Thru-hiker and photographer Tommy “Twerk” Corey wants everyone to know that they have a place in the outdoors. This theme will be front and center in his newest and biggest photo project to date, “All Humans Outside”.
“All Humans Outside” is a collection of portraits and short stories of 100 different individuals that will be published in the form of a book. Corey says he intentionally selected unique subjects who connected to the outdoors in diverse ways, whether it be through recreation, a sport, or outdoor profession.
Corey, who is well-known in the long-distance hiking community for his Hiker Trash Vogue photo project, says that the concept for this book has been a long time in the making but came to the forefront during his CDT hike this year.
READ NEXT – Hiker Trash Vogue – and the Sierra
Corey’s personal experiences as a LGBTQ+ Mexican-American have helped shape “All Humans Outside”, the first book of its kind in the outdoor industry. He hopes that sharing the stories of these unique individuals will encourage the outdoor community to continue working toward achieving an inclusive space where everyone can feel welcome. He hopes to publish within the next two years and is currently accepting project donations through his GoFundMe.
I had the opportunity to learn more about “All Humans Outside” through an interview via email with Corey, and I hope you all will find his insights as inspirational as I did.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
All photos, including featured image, courtesy of Tommy Corey.
It took you three-and-a-half months and nearly 200 zoom interviews to finalize the list of individuals for your book. Can you share a bit about this process?
“I relied a lot on my social media network to introduce me to people—I asked around on Instagram for suggestions, and some people reached out. I also used Google a lot to search for people.
I knew I wanted a beekeeper because I love bees, so I Googled ‘black beekeeper’ and ‘person of color beekeeper’ and found this awesome gal Nicole from New Jersey. She became a beekeeper six years ago after she went to an exhibit and became fascinated with how bees work together in a community. So I wrote her an email and told her about the project I was doing and that I thought what she was doing was rad.
In the interview process, I relied heavily on the connection I had with the person because I wanted them to feel that they could trust me while I spent time photographing them. I also wanted to know that we would have a good time and really be able to connect.
For the selection process, I had to think about where people were located and if it made more sense to photograph 10 people in the same area rather than 10 people who live in different states. I chose a lot of people on the West Coast (which is where I live), and also a lot in New York, Virginia, and some of those neighboring states. I had to clump people just because it made sense budget-wise.”
What have your experiences with the individuals been like so far?
“I’m feeling really great about all of the people I chose for this book—at this point, I honestly feel like I’m making 100 new friends.
I’ve photographed 11 subjects so far and it’s been so fun. While shooting, we’ve talked more about their lives and in turn, I’ve shared a lot about who I am and why I do the work I do. It’s been special—it’s really what happens behind the photos that will forever be special to me.
It’s hard to say who my ‘favorite’ is because everyone’s so different and unique. One story that stands out is about a gal named Channing. She and her family lived on a farm in Laos, and when she was only three years old, she was attacked by a bull, which left her paralyzed. When we spoke, she had such great energy, and I felt such a connection to her. You could just tell she’s a person that makes the best out of what she’s given. So that’s a story that’s really interesting and quirky, unique, inspiring, whatever you want to call it.
I photographed this couple in Salt Lake City who met while climbing four years ago, and they just got engaged. So through their love of climbing, they found someone they love, and that’s really beautiful and special and unique in its own way.”
How do you think your personal experiences have contributed to this project?
“I think this project has been being built since the dawn of my passion for photography, when I was 12 and started taking pictures on my dad’s Olympus OM-1. I always knew I wanted to grow up be a photographer—I wanted to take portraits that had purpose, and someday, I knew that I would make a book of my work.
Eventually, through hiking and integrating myself with the outdoor industry, I came to see how white, straight, and able-bodied thru-hiking is. Going back to the CDT this year and experiencing the same thing, just in a different setting, is what inspired me to move forward with this book. I started thinking about doing this project during my first 100 miles on-trail, and once it got in my head, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
A big reason I wanted to do this project is because of the traumatic childhood I had. I grew up in a small town in northern California and never had a lot of friends. I was ostracized by my peers, who physically harassed me and called me names from the time I was in kindergarten until I graduated high school. I never felt included or safe—I always felt like an underdog.
For me, this book is a really big reflection of who I am and what I’ve gone through in my life. It’s about taking the painful experiences I had and making sure that other people don’t have to have those experiences in the outdoors. I think this is going to be the biggest project I’ve ever done, so photographing a lot of it on my dad’s Olympus, the camera that really helped me connect to this passion, feels right—it feels like my life has come full circle.”
This summer, you decided to end your CDT thru-hike—can you tell us more about this experience?
“From the moment I finished the PCT in 2018, I thought about going on another thru-hike. It was like I thought life would be easier or more interesting if I could just be hiking and connecting with other hikers on-trail. Whenever things weren’t as good as I wanted them to be, I thought about thru-hiking, and thought I really, really wanted it.
After four years of yearning for a thru-hike, I decided I’d hike the CDT. The month-and-a-half I spent outside making friends and taking photos was wonderful, but I had the realization that I could be doing something else. I thought about Hiker Trash Vogue, which got me into this industry and was a big part of my life. I love that work and it means everything to me, but I knew I could do something bigger, better, and more inclusive.
For me, making the decision to get off the CDT was a no-brainer. And you know, I still don’t feel like I quit—it’s more like I took a break or something. I don’t feel a sense of shame or failure, it’s just where it needed to end so that I could start something else.”
What words of wisdom would you share with the thru-hiking community?
“I really don’t want people to take this too much to heart because this is just my opinion, but I would say don’t make thru-hiking your everything. Personally, I didn’t want to make thru-hiking my life, because I just don’t think it’s always attainable—eventually, you have to go back to your work, and your relationships and obligations.
I do believe that thru-hiking can open you up to new opportunities. You could meet someone on-trail and fall in love, you know, or find a new direction for your career. For me, it expanded my creativity and love of photography. I feel more connected to my work than I ever have because of thru-hiking—I wouldn’t be doing this book if I hadn’t thru-hiked.
So, when you thru-hike, hold on to the lessons you learn and trust your gut—that’s what you do on-trail in order to survive. Take those lessons and survival skills and apply them to your life. Trust your gut if you feel like you need a career change, or want to go for that relationship, or want to take that creative endeavor. I think that I’m here today because of everything I’ve learned from thru-hiking.”
What advice would you give someone who may feel that they aren’t typically included in outdoor spaces?
“For people who may or may not feel included in outdoor spaces, there are so many amazing groups online that want to help you, like Unlikely Hikers and Climbers of Color. Spaces like these exist so that you can connect with other people who look like you and want to do the same things as you. Even places like Instagram can be a good resource to help you find others.”
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your project?
“For me, the most important part of this project is that these people are seen and heard and celebrated just for doing the thing they like to do outside. We celebrate the people who run the fastest, climb the highest, and do the craziest shit, but everyone should be celebrated for getting out there and creating community in the outdoors.
At the end of the day, we all have a story to tell. Each person I’ve chosen is a community builder—they’ve used their experiences in the outdoors and their lives to create spaces where people feel welcome. That to me is the most special part of these people and this community that I’m trying to build.”
Ways To Support “All Humans Outside”
Corey is hoping to raise $100,000, which will go toward funding the project for the next year. Half of these proceeds will be used to pay the 100 individuals in the book for their time, and the remainder will help cover travel expenses, film development, and various supplies needed for photo shoots.
Visit Corey’s GoFundMe if you would like to help provide financial support for “All Humans Outside”. You can also support this project by sharing about it online.
All photos, including featured image, courtesy of Tommy Corey. Featured image: Thru-hiker and mental health advocate Jesse “The Boston Mule” Cody.
Make sure to stay in the loop by signing up for The Trek’s newsletter.