Lessons from the Drive Home

When I was a kid we drove down to Los Angeles from the Bay Area – a lot. I thought I-5 was the most incredibly boring drive anywhere. My parents often did the drive at night, I suspect as much to get us to sleep through the drive instead of having to listen to us complain about it, as much as to fit their schedules.

A funny thing has happened the last few times I’ve driven I-5, especially on the drive home from Camp Gramma and Gramps. I-5 has gotten interesting, even beautiful. Or perhaps I have just become open to the final lesson from camp.

Lesson # 4 – You do not have to go somewhere “special” to be inspired.

Two weeks ago I was in Yosemite. Beautiful, awe-inspiring and very photographable. You can hardly take a step without finding another vista, waterfall or critter to photograph.

This week I spent in Hanford. Yup, Hanford. If you are like 99% of the people I’ve mentioned Hanford to, you have no idea where Hanford is, you’ve never even heard of it. It’s near Fresno. Ah… It’s between the San Francisco and Los Angeles. Aha!

But something about the lighting on my drive home from Hanford to San Jose was just perfect. The hills were a beautiful buttery yellow, the sky a blue that varied from pale and watery to brilliant azure depending on where I looked, and everywhere there was a scene that I wanted to photograph.

If you’ve ever driven on Hwy 198 or I-5 you might be surprised. I mean it’s all just fields and bare, dry landscape, right?

I kept thinking of a book by one of my professors (and one of my favorite photographers),  Robert Dawson, called The Great Central Valley. In this project Bob photographed areas, that might otherwise be dismissed, in such a way as to show their beauty and dignity. You can see some of his magnificent photographs, here. (And while you’re at it, check out Farewell Promised Land. The photograph, Private property, Lake Tahoe, remains one of my all time favorite photographs.)

Where I could, I stopped on the roadside on my way home. The two images in this blog post are from those stops. The first (above) is of a farmer tilling his soil. I like the juxtaposition of the farmer and field with all of the man-made timing and light devices (including the reflection in the rear-view mirror).

 The second is of a hillside recently burned. I think the black hills make the golden-yellow and sky blue pop – and I like the way the black pickets and road carry the black through the image.

The drive has reminded me of an exercise that I used to do – Daily Photographs. Every day I would take photographs and then cull them down to the 5 best. This served two purposes – it made me look at my everyday environments with an artist’s eye – and made me self-edit (something I’m not very good at). Hmm. I think I’ll have to start the Daily Photographs again. Perhaps there is an artists’ book in there somewhere…

I challenge you to find artistic inspiration in an environment you previously thought boring.



One response to “Lessons from the Drive Home

  1. I know where Hanford is. My family is from Fresno, and Yosemite used to be where I’d go for a jaunty drive. Like you, it took me awhile to find the beauty of the Central Valley. Having just completed driving the entire length of Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica, I was warned about the boring flatlands of Texas. They were anything but boring for these eyes that have longed to see an entire horizon without a vertical interruption, on land, turning 360 degrees. My take on boring is that it resides in the viewer, not in the landscape. Thanks for this sweet reminder.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s