A couple of months ago I visited a dear friend in Oklahoma City. On the way back I stopped by a little spot ten miles west of nowhere near Edmond, Oklahoma…to see a tree. Supposedly this was no ordinary tree; I’d seen pictures of it, heard stories about people driving out of their way to see it — needless to say, I had to experience it for myself.
Except it turns out it was 1) after ten p.m. by the time I made it out there and 2) so, so cold. I tried to take a long exposure photo but the whole thing turned out to be completely out of focus and looked pretty awful.
A loss, right? Not really. As I stood there sipping my hot cocoa, chilled to the bone, looking at this little tree (a dogwood, maybe?) I felt this weird feeling of…well…of standing out in the middle of nowhere by myself but feeling anything but. There’s something to be said about sharing a spot with a whole bunch of people across space and time (some of whom you’ve never met, some of whom you have). Sharing space. It’s something we do every day, but I suspect we rarely think about. It got me thinking so much I’m devoting episode two of my podcast to it — but more on that later.
I spent a good part of the last half of 2011 traveling. It was amazing for all the reasons that wandering is always so, but I sadly returned into a world so hectic that I’ve barely had the chance to process it all. In the coming weeks I intend to sort through the photos, journals and video I shot while galavanting around the country (and even, for a brief time, outside it). I’ll likely condense it into a few posts, but consider this a teaser and a proof of concept. It’s coming.
Sitting down to write this post, I asked myself where I go for inspiration. I guess my first inclination, as always, was to make some kind of list. But what would this list look like? Websites, photographers, designers…books? I arrived at the conclusion that inspiration necessarily comes from all around me. There’s no one place I go for inspiration. But that doesn’t really make for an interesting read, so I made a list anyway.
So, what’s inspired me lately?
Vanity Fair: The Portraits
I received this book as a birthday gift last month. It’s a truly amazing collection of images documenting a century of modern society, by many of its most iconic photographers (and a few of my personal heroes) including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Annie Leibowitz and Edward Steichen. I love taking pictures of people, this is no secret. I haven’t had the chance to do a lot of that lately, but I’m working on it (see my previous post). It seems to me that if you want to do something well, you study the best. This book showcases some of the finest portraits from the last century, and thumbing through its massive pages is awe-inspiring.
500 Days of Summer
This film has been praised as the anti-love story and dismissed as a hipster romantic comedy, but I think what I liked about 500 Days of Summer is how it defied categorization. It had moments of genuine emotion alongside lighthearted comedy (and even a dance number). The film didn’t claim to be something it wasn’t—I think the opening narration says it best:
“This is a story of boy meets girl. But you should know up front, this is not a love story.”
But I must confess: it takes more than an enduring story for a movie to truly inspire me. 500 Days took it to the next level with an interestingly jumbled chronology—which in some movies proves confusing or disorienting—and tied it all together with a very slick design. The feel of those interstitial spaces was more reminiscent of information graphics or user experience design than simple movie titles. The design of the movie is what made it work. And it worked out quite well, in my opinion.
Though something tells me everyone already knows that. In addition to the epic (and previously blogged) trip to California this summer, we also took a summer-ending road trip to Kansas City over the Labor Day weekend. It was awesome. Just long enough to be relaxing and see the sights, short enough to keep things cheap and simple. The problem with me and travel, however, is that the more I do it…the more I want to do it. Not to mention the fact that every time I visit some place other than Tulsa, the less I like Tulsa. But that’s not inspiring, so it doesn’t belong on this list.
I’ve been to some really touristy places in my life. Eureka Springs, Arkansas, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Padre Island, Texas. And at the heart of all these places was something that really was worth seeing (thus the tourism) that was inevitably overstated by kitschy t-shirts, refrigerator magnets, and guided sightseeing tours. So when we set out for our first day in San Francisco, my inherent pessimism about overcrowded beaches, overpriced snack foods and streets lined with souvenir shops was always present: I was nervous. And in a lot of ways, it’s precisely what I expected: Little stands sold campy Alcatraz coffee mugs, Cokes cost $3, and our bay cruise was narrated by “Captain Nemo”; not to mention all the usual trappings of the travel destination, including overpriced parking and panhandlers (including this one, who was particularly entertaining).
Yet with San Fransisco, I couldn’t help but feel that all the flashy tourism on the waterfront was something different. It wasn’t exaggerating or playing up the excitement of the place, and once you get through the kitsch there is beauty and life right under the surface. The city’s rich history, culture, diversity…it has a life of its own, which defies touristy boat rides and Golden Gate Bridge shot glasses. The city is a force to be reckoned with.
We started with the most visitor-friendly destinations at the first of the week, and worked our way out into the city for the remaining time. Day one was Pier 39 and our bay cruise, which was predictably cheesy though enjoyable. I took a mid-afternoon trip with Seth in a ZipCar (well truck, actually) to pick up a futon they’d purchased from a girl in the Richmond district (who was apparently some kind of Mick Jagger fangirl). The futon served as our sleeping quarters for the remainder of the trip. That night we had some great Italian food in North Beach a few blocks from where we stayed.
The rest of the trip consisted of us hitting the sights, including (though not limited to): SFMOMA, the Legion of Honor, the deYoung Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, Haight-Ashbury, and the Castro. We spent Friday in the Marina district, where I took photos with the Medium Format (the first two of which are included in this post) and Lisa sketched the bridge and fishing boats. That night, we had a little photo shoot with Seth and Laura, which you can see here.
Other interesting highlights included:
Joe’s Cable Car (featured on the food network show “Guy’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”, and apparently really proud of it) which was, honestly, a really tasty burger, ground fresh on site daily, horrendously, almost pretentiously overpriced. Ten dollars for a four ounce burger?
Rickshaw Bagworks which was so fantastically awesome I’ve decided to do an entire blog post about it. Suffice it to say I got myself a moleskine folio and the misses got herself a nice messenger bag. The items are made to order (you heard me right) on site. Some fabrics are even made from 100% recycled materials. I could go on and on, but I’ll save that for another post.
Chinatown where we dined on incredible, ridiculously inexpensive Dim Sum (we both got stuffed for about $2.50 a piece) and yes, bought a Golden Gate Bridge shot glass.
Midnight showing of Pulp Fiction at the historic Clay Theater in Pacific Heights, which was just all kinds of awesome.
City Lights Bookstore which just made me sad how few independent book stores exist anymore.
Basically, the trip was amazing. Being able to stay with friends instead of paying for a hotel allowed us to slow down and really get a feel for the city, instead of trying to cram in as much as possible (which is what we did while visiting Chicago, DC, New York, and most recently St. Louis) and the change of pace was really enjoyable. I can’t wait to visit again, and there are some awesome side-trips we didn’t have time for that I’m excited to check out (Napa, Monterrey Bay, and generally any areas north of the Bay Area. Not to mention that Yosemite and I have unfinished business). The city by the bay, as it were, was all I hoped it would be.
We officially began our summer this year with a trip to California, partly to celebrate my recent college graduation, partly to see our good friends Seth and Laura in San Francisco, and partly because we both needed a vacation. We spent the first part of our trip at Yosemite National Park, which has to be the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. Being a fan of Ansel Adams et al, I’ve been looking at pictures of Yosemite for years…but pictures just don’t do the place justice. You can’t truly appreciate the place until you’re standing there.
We spent two days at Yosemite, driving from San Francisco Friday night and returning Sunday evening. Our cabin in Coulterville was a scenic hour drive from the park itself, with plenty of great overlooks en route to keep us entertained. We drove through the Stanislaus National Forest (The Forest of Many Uses, or so the signs exclaimed), climbing from the Chaparral* of the foothills to the rich evergreen forests of the National Park itself, then back down again on Sunday. Much of the trip looked like something out of an old Western movie. I was really fascinated by the multitude of geography and climate we experienced, being accustomed to the rather predictable terrain and weather of Oklahoma. Nothing reminds me just how ugly Oklahoma can be like a trip to pretty much anywhere else. And speaking of things from Oklahoma, our good friends Seth and Laura were along for the ride, and graciously provided us with lodging for our week in San Francisco–and unlike many other things from Oklahoma, they’re not ugly at all! We couldn’t have asked for better travelling companions, and unless I’m mistaken, they had an awesome time (photographic proof on Laura’s flickr). They also love squirrels, as evidenced by the following photograph.
All in all, our trip to Yosemite was an astounding success. We were able to see a lot in the two days we were there–Yosemite Valley, two amazing waterfalls (Yosemite Falls and Bridal Veil Falls), giant Sequoias, and Glacier Point (where both the scenic shots in this post were taken), not to mention bears, lizards, chipmunks, all sorts of birds, and of course squirrels. I think a person could spend a year in Yosemite without growing tired of it, so two days was hardly even enough to whet my appetite. Needless to say, we’ll be back someday.
Both scenic shots in this post were taken with a medium-format Mamiya RB67, which got me the special pat-down treatment at the airport when they saw it in my carry-on…but here I am. For more shots from our Yosemite trip, check out my Yosemite set on flickr, which will be continually updated as I get stuff edited.
* I had to do a lot of research to find the name for this type of terrain/ecosystem. It’s really captivating, and I wish I’d pulled off to get some pictures of it. As the wikipedia article states, it seems that without roads it would be almost impassible by humans. It’s a really interesting terrain.