Circling the Block: Travel Photography in the Age of Coronavirus
By Peter Guttman
Well, it’s official. Our governor just announced a stay at home order. I’m grounded. I had been slated to leave tomorrow on an assignment lecturing aboard a cruise ship sailing through the Caribbean.
I’m a photographer and travel journalist who has published eight hardcover photography books portraying travel adventures around the world.
240 Countries, 7 Continents
On assignment through over 240 countries and all seven continents, I’ve documented vanishing wildlife, endangered cultures and fragile landscapes from steaming jungles to polar ice caps.
On the telephone, even before inquiring about my health or the latest food situation in my area, my long-distance friends mostly ask me how I’ve dealt with these new limits on my nomadic wanderlust.
This month last year, I delivered a TEDx talk focusing on living life to the fullest.
Escape to the Salton Sea
This day last week, as a rebellious consolation to the tightening noose of restrictions limiting my peripatetic lifestyle, I escaped Los Angeles for one final road trip exploring the surrealistic Salton Sea and the blooming desert wildflowers carpeting the Mojave Desert.
As a decades-long, dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, my current residency in Hollywood was not quite in the forecast, but my wife’s alluring job offer from Netflix seemed to have a different destiny in mind.
With a pool, jacuzzi and health club, I quickly readjusted to a sunnier lifestyle and became more determined than ever to stay in shape.
So now that gyms throughout California are being shut down, my main exercise regimen has shifted from the treadmill downstairs to speed walking around my block.
I figured eight circuits would fill the hour I customarily devote to hypnotically slogging away on the treadmill. What I hadn’t figured on was a brand new exercise in experiencing my immediate surroundings during this unsettling period of societal upheaval.
On wide sidewalks once choked by strolling middle American tourists gawking at the stars embedded on Hollywood Boulevard, lone rollerbladers surf shiny pavement where preening French bulldogs await the traffic light to signal a resumption of their owner’s tugging leash.
Giant totems of billboarded pop culture seem to loom ominously over empty streets. I noticed a famed record store’s relocation being optimistically announced on the storefront window of my residential complex.
Amoeba Music is seemingly unconcerned that their company’s namesake has a less welcoming ring during this intensely germophobic moment in history. Ghostly shadows of palm fronds eerily recall happier memories of faraway tropical breezes and fabled theater arcades suddenly sit unoccupied, their silhouettes once gilded in blazing neon that’s now been extinguished.
Colored chalks spill from tubs and await usage by a tattooed street artist inscribing onto pavement her anguished impulses with imagery of agas mask-clad skull.
From this one block on only two outings, I discovered a technicolor x-ray of America, where glitz and glamour butt heads with homelessness and despair.
Shooting on the Run
These are the fleeting images that I literally captured on the run, and all without ever crossing a single street. During my decades of travel, I’d been used to lugging a spine-tugging camera bag loaded with equipment and rolls of film, which I still shoot to this day.
For now, sporting only my iPhone, I’m finding a startling sense of artistic freedom, and by my second revolution around the block, I was noticing patterns of colors, designs, and activities that began painting Hollywood in a surprising new light.
Seeing your environment through fresh eyes is a skill set that’s often at the heart of engaging travel photography. By exercising those visual muscles, you might in that process sharpen your view of the world all around you, even when stranded in your own neighborhood.
Tapping Your Inner Soul
By tapping into your inner soul, identifying your passion, and catering to your curiosity, you’ll discover the comforting embrace that can blanket you in troubled times using just a dash of imagination and creativity.
Whatever experiences you do engage in during this period of extreme nesting, thinking and acting in these creative new ways will almost certainly place us on a stronger path when this all finally blows over.
In the meanwhile, eyes open, nose shut and stay well.
Peter Guttman is an award-winning travel journalist, author, photographer, TEDx lecturer, and television personality, who has been honored with a Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Exploration and Storytelling, and was three times named the recipient of the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year Award from the Society of American Travel Writers.
He is the author of eight books about magical lodgings and travel experiences, and the creator of two highly praised series of hardcover books for both Fodors Travel Publications and Skyhorse Publishing about unique adventures and hotels around the world.
He has been one of the leading contributors to Conde Nast Traveler’s high-visibility column, “Room with a View” and his iPad and iPhone app, Rooms with a View have also claimed a Northern Lights Award.
Guttman’s work and images have also been seen across multi-page spreads in Life Magazine, on international postage stamps, and on the covers of over a hundred books. Instagram: @peterguttman