Text and photos by Allie Mount.
Much of my landscape photography is taken while on family road trips. My husband and I have relatives in California so invariably we make our way down from Oregon a number of times throughout the year. Sometimes we fly, but often we load the car up for holidays, birthdays or just to visit and enjoy warmer weather.
The photographs in this series come from such travels and are typically views I have seen while perched at the side of a highway, family patiently waiting in the car for me to finish my shot.
Our last Thanksgiving holiday was no exception to this routine. It was a few weeks ago and my husband, son, sister, sister’s dog and I all piled into our car to drive from our home in Portland down to the San Francisco Bay Area. The decision to drive rather than fly was economic, but also factored into part of the fun of our holiday.
I grew up taking similar car trips with my parents and grandparents throughout California and road trips still carry both a sense of nostalgia and adventure for me; the perfect blend of the familiar coupled with the excitement of what is yet to be discovered.
These childhood excursions yielded hours of views of rolling grassy hills, ranchland, deserts and evergreen forests; fostering a real love for the western landscape. I am hoping to pass on the joy of the road trip to my son, but we might have a little ways to go yet.
On this particular trip we were traveling south on Interstate 5 through Oregon, some of the most scenic parts of the Pacific Northwest. We had snacks, audio books, even pillows for the occasional nap. We were set, or so we thought. It was a 12-hour haul and that is undeniably long for one day’s journey, especially for a child. Several hours into our trip my 7-year old, in an effort to explain or maybe complain about his boredom began to detail everyone’s “job” in the car. He started with my sister and her dog sitting next to him and worked clockwise:
With a sigh, “Sarah’s job is to hold her dog on her lap. Buddha’s job is to sleep and drool.”
Another sigh, “Dad’s job is to keep the car on the road.”
And this time with some growing exasperation, “Mom’s job is to look out the window and make us stop every second so she can take a picture for an hour!”
This made us all laugh and while we still had a number of hours to go, my boy was satisfied with his broadcast of the monotony of the road and our reactions had reset his mood. I have to say that my son’s perception of time is a little exaggerated, but the otherwise boiled-down observation was accurate and caused me to take note. I was staring out the window. I do this a lot.
For a photographer there is so much in the simple act of sitting and looking. What other medium provides the opportunity to just stop and notice? Like film or music, the element of time is intrinsic to photography. People often talk about “the capture,” the moment the camera is able to freeze time. While I also love the concept of recording a moment, it is often the time that surrounds that moment that I enjoy the most. Photography is about slowing down for me, an awareness of the fact that you are looking; it is a regard for what you are seeing and a pacing that allows you to connect to the world around you.
Growing up in California, the topography of the land automatically shaped how I identified with location and my aesthetics for landscape. I believe that much of the visual language that surrounds you at different times in your life informs what you come to find appealing. This might sound obvious, but I often think about this when it comes to ideas on inspiration for taking pictures.
I think back to my mother’s sense of arranging our home, about my grandmother’s garden and my father’s knack for bringing order and alignment to a space. I remember spending summers lost in the canyon behind our house, days at the beach and of course the family road trips.
But my motivation in taking these pictures isn’t as simple as wanting to recreate these comforts of the past. It is more about a realization that what I find beautiful has roots within my own life. Thinking about it, there are years of staring out of car windows in each of these photographs. My son would cringe at the thought!
The truth is my family is incredibly patient with my ulterior agenda to photograph the landscapes along our routes. My husband without fail will graciously pull the car over to the shoulder of the highway and I typically hike back to the location I had seen. My family watches as I wander off into a field or climb down to the edge of a stream. It has come to be such a habit that my husband has gained an intuition for when I am about to ask him to stop, “viewpoint” sign or not.
On this particular trip I saw thousands of compositions pass me by at 65 miles per hour; orchards, mountains, trees, vistas. At one point we passed a fire that had caught out in a grassy field, plumes of gray smoke were billowing. My husband glanced over at me, chuckling “Do you need to do your job”? A weak attempt at a groan rose from the car seat behind me. Sarah gently shifted the weight of Buddha on her lap and I was halfway through my “I’ll be quick” speech when I noticed I was out of film.
I have to admit I was disappointed but I had already photographed a lot that day. I had a number of keepers from earlier on and this was not the only scene to pass me by. In a sense, it creates an incentive to head out again and try to document the pictures I missed. It’s fodder for another road trip.