Back in March of this year, the world was in the grips of a pandemic shutdown due to the impact of Covid-19. The long term future was uncertain, and the short term reality was one of ‘stay at home’ orders and restricted social movement. Like many, I was forced to make dramatic changes to my work schedule, and also cancel most travel plans and leisure activities. In that time I realized how much I rely on this blog as a creative outlet and as a means to continually pursue my hobbies of backpacking and travel. Without those outlets I found myself in a creative rut and was struggling to find ways to break up my days of living and working from home. As I mulled over ways to break out of that creative impasse, I asked myself a simple “Am I a good photographer or do I just take pictures of interesting things?”. That question led me to purse a photo challenge in June, where I got outside and took pictures everyday. I learned a from my photo challenge in June, and that experience helped inspire many socially distanced trips over the summer to new places.
Since then, summer has come to a swift end and we’ve made our way into the fall and winter months. Sadly, the realities of Covid contagion are once again back to where they were in the spring and the prospect of travel seems very far away. I took on a preemptive photo challenge this time around for the month of November to keep myself active and mentally stimulated. The major challenge this time was finding new things to take pictures of and new ways to photograph what is already familiar to me. Much like my photo challenge in June, I learned a lot by doing this, and in this post I’ll share my five main takeaways.
1. The vintage signs on Route 66 make for fun driving
One of the perks of living next to Route 66 in Southern California is that I get to see a lot of vintage signs that are decades old. When I was feeling short of inspiration to walk around taking pictures, it was nice to drive along Route 66 or other major streets and enjoy the vintage signage. There are a lot of new signs as well that are made to look old, but they all work to provide a certain nostalgia to a different era of driving. During these times of Covid-19, I found driving to be a great way to get outside for a quick activity without having to be around people.
2. Finding old cars is always fun
Much like the vintage signs along Route 66, it’s always amazing to see cars that are 5 or 6 decades old still out and about. Spotting and photographing old cars was one of the mental scavenger hunt games I would play on my morning walks throughout the month. The city I live in has a very high percentage of senior citizens, so it’s a great place for spotting vintage cars and old houses. I also found a lot of vintage cars on our road trips along 395.
3. There is a lot of beauty in the mundane
Much of my photography over the years has been focused on the epic, taking pictures of massive mountain ranges, sprawling canyons, ancient temples, historic buildings, and many other sites that are very easy to take an interest in. During this photo challenge and the one I did in June, I really tried to focus on the ordinary. I tried to see the things I walk past and ignore everyday in a new way. I’ve always enjoyed banal, new topographics, and American landscape photography, but never shot much. For November, I spent a lot of time walking around ordinary suburban towns looking for things that caught my eye.
4. Fall is the best time for road trips in California
I spend a lot of time driving to mountain ranges for hikes and backpacking trips during the summer months. On those trips, I often aim straight for the destination at high elevation to avoid the triple digit temperatures along the way. I always see things I find interesting along HWY 14, HWY 395, and I-15, but have a hard time getting out of the car when my thermostat reads 109°F. For November, I took my family on a few roadtrips to these places and enjoyed pitch perfect weather that allowed me to explore places I’ve driven past at least 10-15 times without fully exploring.
5. There’s a symbolism in doors that is hard to put into words
For this November photo challenge, I went out and took pictures every day of the month. Some days I would fire off hundreds of exposures and on other days I would only take a handful. When I pulled up all of these images at the end of the month, a visual theme that jumped out at me was my focus on shooting doors (at least one a day). In literature, doors are often used to symbolize the passage from one context to another. In religion and mythology, doors are often used as a symbol of passage from one realm or reality to another. In every photo I took of a door, the door was shut, and that to me embodies the state of our reality right now with Covid-19. We all have to sit and wait patiently for that door to open until we can pass through safely to the other side. I hope that day is on the near horizon for 2021.
After completing my photo challenge in June, I thought that was it, and that there was nothing else for me to take photos of in my hometown. I’m glad I tried this again, as it forced me to see new things and to see old things in a new way. I’m going to try and do another photo challenge in 2021 and am hoping to convince some people to try it with me. It would be cool to have a shared hashtag on Instagram or a group on Flickr to see everyone’s work. Maybe some readers here would be interested? In the meantime, you can follow me on Instagram at @_drew.robinson_, this is where I post all of the non-outdoor stuff that would otherwise go to @trailtopeak.