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Into the Wild

With his epic yet intimate photos and musings, photographer and illustrator Christian Watson embodies a spirit of adventure for the Instagram age

Looking at the work that Christian Watson creates under the moniker 1924us, one could be forgiven for thinking he came from an earlier, simpler, and more rugged time. His pristine photographs of natural landscapes and meticulously rendered pencil drawings of woodland creatures seem lifted straight out of the year he named his brand after. Even Watson’s occasional self-portraits call to mind a time when men weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.

The fantasy falls apart the second you remember that you’re staring at Instagram, not a time machine, but by then you’ve probably joined his nearly 600,000 followers, who revel in the way Watson seamlessly transports the archetypal American values of hard work, self-reliance, and an adventurous spirit into the digital age. If the artfully arranged “lay-flat” is the fruit bowl still life of today, Watson is the Cézanne of the form. But even when his photos are perfectly regimented—say, a row of vintage cameras lined up as precisely as the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon—they are accompanied by long, heartfelt captions that brim with untamed emotion.
  • Click through the above slideshow of Christian Watson’s images of the Elk Ridge Polo Shirt, set against the rugged terrain of Watson’s native Pacific Northwest
  • Click through the above slideshow of Christian Watson’s images of the Elk Ridge Polo Shirt, set against the rugged terrain of Watson’s native Pacific Northwest
  • Click through the above slideshow of Christian Watson’s images of the Elk Ridge Polo Shirt, set against the rugged terrain of Watson’s native Pacific Northwest
  • Click through the above slideshow of Christian Watson’s images of the Elk Ridge Polo Shirt, set against the rugged terrain of Watson’s native Pacific Northwest
  • Click through the above slideshow of Christian Watson’s images of the Elk Ridge Polo Shirt, set against the rugged terrain of Watson’s native Pacific Northwest
  • Click through the above slideshow of Christian Watson’s images of the Elk Ridge Polo Shirt, set against the rugged terrain of Watson’s native Pacific Northwest

“I grew up in the midst of nature,” Watson says. “Myrtle Creek, Oregon, is a small town of just over 3,000, and it’s in some of the most beautiful forested areas of that state.” His family didn’t have a lot of money, and Watson was always hustling to make something happen. “I guess from a young age, I learned that struggle is a very relatable tool that we all have. We all go through things, and I started to realize that it’s a beautiful thing to share with other people, as long as you’re actually trying to lift everybody up.”

If Watson’s images draw people in, it’s his emotional honesty that cements his connection with his huge fan base. He’s a self-made preacher of self-improvement that doesn’t come across as preachy. “Sometimes it’s really tough and sometimes it’s beautiful, but that’s always based on what I’m feeling in the moment,” he explains. “I’m never thinking, ‘I should write about this life lesson today.’ It’s what I’m going through.”

His recent book, Forth Goes the Road, documents a 30-day trip he took to Alaska in a Craigslist-purchased 1987 Jeep Grand Wagoneer with his dog and his cameras, without the aid of a cell phone, a map, or motels. “Traveling is one of those requirements for life,” he says. “It shows us new perspectives, not just physically, not just new foods or cultures, but it helps us discover how we are in a number of situations, uncomfortable and otherwise, ultimately leading to betterment.”

At 25 years old, Watson is both old soul and old pro—1924us is the continuation of work he’s been doing since he was 16, when he bought his first vintage camera at a charity resale shop. Around that time he started developing a following across different social networks, including Myspace and Tumblr. After a brief stint studying architecture in Massachusetts, he ended up in Texas, where he helped open the menswear store Manready Mercantile. By the time he sold his stake, his Instagram account had reached legitimate influencer status.

Now, 1924us has grown into a mini creative agency, and Watson has become in demand as a designer, creating logos and other branding elements for companies large and small. But he still does most everything by hand, using tools from the past. “I’ve seen some of the most incredible things made from the simplest materials,” he says. “All it takes is a little bit of extra dedication and patience. You can do most anything with most anything.”
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ANDREW PAINE BRADBURY is a writer and musician based in New York City.
  • Photographs by 1924us; courtesy of Ralph Lauren Corporation
  • Courtesy of Ralph Lauren Corporation