First published in The Photographer’s Mail, February 2014
I love a good road trip, it’s part of who I am. I put it down to growing up in Australia where every holiday began with at least an 8 hour drive. Squashed in our Ford Falcon Stationwagon for what seemed like days, watching the world come towards me with such intent that it was hypnotic.
I was the youngest of three so I never got a window seat, just wedged in the middle with the wide wide windscreen wrapping around and consuming me. Mum always said it was the best seat in the house, but I dreamed of being big enough to sit by the window where the world flew by with such speed that I was always left wanting more, always wishing I could pause for a minute to enjoy the details of the front yards and side roads. When you look forward, down the road, everything is announced so you’re prepared and expectant of the new sights. Sure you have more time to notice details, but mostly those details are the backs of the cars in front and making rude words out of the license plates gets boring fast.
After moving to New Zealand in 2003 I started to lose my stamina for the long trips. Distances are much smaller there, you don’t need to punch on for 12 hours to get to the next exciting thing, it’s just around the corner. So much to see in such a small place. It’s why I made Wellington my home and why it will always be the place I return to. Mind you, it does take ages to get anywhere because I’m constantly having to stop to take pictures!
Now America is a horse of a different colour. This place seems to have not only the huge expanse of Australia but also New Zealand’s mind numbing beauty. The kind of beauty that is tiring in it’s relentlessness. It’s amazing, especially the desert areas of the west where the remains of ghost towns sit next to the new housing developments. There is an ancient wonder here, a sadness and a hope.
We once did an 8,000km road trip, a loop from Los Angeles to Vegas, along the Grand Canyon and up into Utah, Yellowstone to Seattle, San Francisco to Yosemite and back down to LA. My little mind was blown in those 4 weeks. Canyons so deep you could imagine them far under the sea, trees so large they had roads through their trunks, and towers of solid rock that ached to touch the sky. One night whilst camping in the desert I locked the keys in the car with my phone and our water, and even though I was only wearing boxer shorts, miles from anywhere, the sky was still incredible. It wasn’t so beautiful the next morning whilst hitching to the ranger’s station in the 30+ degree heat.
We’ve been back to parts of that trip early last year in the winter and seeing those places now covered in snow changed everything. It was a different landscape and the photographs I took in summer could stand next to these new winter ones and not be the same place. Being in a desert when it’s snowing is truly a magical experience, but being snowed in to a desert town for three days straight is not.
When I look back on those days in the middle car seat, trapped by the massive windscreen, I realize that I like the fleeting glimpses, the little snapshots of time and place. As photographers we create these snippets, a single frame with no past or future; just a now. Our minds expand on the possibilities, the back and front stories of our little scenes.
That’s what I love about photography, it’s like a good road trip: you never know the whole story of what you’re seeing but it’s the imagining that makes it worthwhile.