Smiles, Space, and the school bus they call home
A photographer finds much more than a project with a family in Ohio

There's immersion journalism, and then there's what photographer Meg Roussos did.

For Roussos, now 22, the adventure began her freshman year of college at Ohio University in Athens. The photographer-in-training was shooting a project when she overheard a woman saying she had to pick up her daughter at her friend's school bus.

When Roussos asked if she heard her correctly, the woman said, yes, her friends, Smiles and Space Welch, live not in a house, but a school bus just outside the college town.

(Meg Roussos)

"I was like, 'Wait, what? I have to meet these people,'" Roussos says, laughing.

The introduction took a bit of time to set up, because the husband, Smiles, was wary of letting a photographer enter their world. Eventually, he reconsidered, and Roussos began spending time out on the piece of land the couple owns, works on, and lives on, along with their three sons, Forest, Elijah, and Simon.

(Meg Roussos)

(Meg Roussos)

(Meg Roussos)

As Roussos spent time with the family, she learned their story. Smiles and Space met while hitchhiking across the United States. After Space gave birth to the couple's first child, they settled in California.

But the pair held a fervent desire to return to Athens, a town they had both traveled through while out on the road. Agreeing it would be a good place to raise their family, Smiles and Space found a piece of land on which they planned to build a house. In the meantime, they took up residence in a school bus parked on the property.

(Meg Roussos)

Smiles works several jobs around Athens — some odd jobs on a local ranch, along with cleanup at a brewery. Space makes and sells soaps at craft fairs.

(Meg Roussos)

As often happens in life, one year turned into two, and then a couple more. The bus remained while the family grew and settled into it, converting the narrow space into a maze of couches, beds, and storage. This is where Roussos entered into the picture.

A funny thing happened as her original project wrapped up, though: Roussos found she didn't want to stop visiting the Welches.

"I don't think you can just keep those relationships black and white," Roussos says. "It's important for photographers to acknowledge that, because I don't think you always can truly capture what people are going through if you have those rigid boundaries."

(Meg Roussos)

(Meg Roussos)

What few self-imposed boundaries Roussos had those first three years she dropped her last year in college when she set up a teepee on the Welches' land and lived there herself.

The photographer concedes it was not exactly the typical co-ed experience, but she loved it.

"After knowing this family for four years, just watching this lifestyle where you're outside, and it's really simple, it interested me to the point that I eventually asked them if they'd be cool with that," Roussos says. "My parents weren't too keen on it at the beginning, but they eventually got to meet (Smiles and Space)."

"And my professors supported me, and my friends thought it was cool," she says. " They came out and helped me build a deck."

After graduating in May — cheered on at commencement by both Roussos' family and the Welches — she took off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

"We actually got kicked off about 20 miles from the Canadian border, because of the government shutdown," she says.

So, now what?

"I don't know, exactly, I'm still trying to figure out what I would like to do with photography," she says. "But my teepee is still in Athens."

(Meg Roussos)

**Click here to see more work by Meg Roussos**



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