What a Famous Photographer Sees: Lockdown

 Bursting from building facades, once exuberant figures of colorful pop culture now loom menacingly over empty streets..Peter Guttman photo
Bursting from building facades, once exuberant figures of colorful pop culture now loom menacingly over the empty streets of Hollywood, California. Peter Guttman photos

Circling the Block: Travel Photography in the Age of Coronavirus

By Peter Guttman

What a Famous Photographer Sees: Lockdown 1Well, 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.

Where commercial traffic has dwindled to a standstill, vehicular competition has now yielded to graceful footwork guiding skateboarders past a graffiti-lined homeless encampment.
Where commercial traffic has dwindled to a standstill, vehicular competition has now yielded to graceful footwork guiding skateboarders past a graffiti-lined homeless encampment.

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.

A lone pedestrian scurries past a shuttered ice cream parlor toward the next door pharmacy.
A lone pedestrian scurries past a shuttered ice cream parlor toward the pharmacy next door.

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

Desert gardens studded with barrel cactus guard the entrance to El Centro's tony residential complex.
Desert gardens studded with barrel cactus guard the entrance to El Centro’s tony residential complex.

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.

Pollen brushed filaments amongst blooming red bottlebrush attract flitting hummingbirds fueling their high metabolism and hovering flight abilities, made possible by wing beats of up to fifty flaps per second.
Pollen brushed filaments amongst blooming red bottlebrush attract flitting hummingbirds fueling their high metabolism and hovering flight abilities, made possible by wingbeats of up to fifty flaps per second.

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.

Hollywood Boulevard

One of America’s earliest pop icons and a sex symbol of the roaring twenties, Rudolf Valentino Is memorialized in stellar fashion along with over 2,600 other terrazzo and brass stars lining the Hollywood Walk of Fame, trampled by selfie-obsessed hordes during healthier times.
One of America’s earliest pop icons and a sex symbol of the roaring twenties, Rudolf Valentino Is memorialized in stellar fashion along with over 2,600 other terrazzo and brass stars lining the Hollywood Walk of Fame, trampled by selfie-obsessed hordes during healthier times.

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.

What seems Hollywood’s last remaining mass transit, motorbikers command now empty sidewalks and pass by Funko, a retail kingdom of Instagram-worthy cartoon figures.
What seems Hollywood’s last remaining mass transit, motorbikers command now empty sidewalks and pass by Funko, a retail kingdom of Instagram-worthy cartoon figures.

Amoeba Music

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.

A famed record store’s relocation is being optimistically announced on the future facade of Amoeba Music, seemingly unconcerned that their company’s namesake has a less welcoming ring during this intensely germaphobic moment in history.
A famed record store’s relocation is being optimistically announced on the future facade of Amoeba Music, seemingly unconcerned that their company’s namesake has a less welcoming ring during this intensely germaphobic moment in history.

 

What a Famous Photographer Sees: Lockdown 2
Colored chalks spill from tubs and await usage by a tattooed street artist inscribing her anguished impulses with imagery of a gas mask-clad skull.

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.

On wide sidewalks once choked by strolling middle American tourists, preening French bulldogs await the traffic light to signal a resumption of their owner's tugging leash.
On wide sidewalks once choked by strolling middle American tourists, preening French bulldogs await the traffic light to signal a resumption of their owner’s tugging leash.
Beneath perpetually sunny, cerulean skies, mid-century bungalows are shaded by swaying palm tree fronds, whose ghostly shadows eerily recall happier memories of faraway tropical breezes.
Beneath perpetually sunny, cerulean skies, mid-century bungalows are shaded by swaying palm tree fronds, whose ghostly shadows eerily recall happier memories of faraway tropical breezes.
Stratocumulus clouds reflect amongst glass panes at the newly redeveloped Columbia Square, home to the CBS Television Network for almost seven decades.
Stratocumulus clouds reflect amongst glass panes at the newly redeveloped Columbia Square, home to the CBS Television Network for almost seven decades.

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

A sad testimonial to a national problem, pop up housing has spread across a glamorous entertainment district, where ritz and glamour butt heads with homelessness and despair.
A sad testimonial to a national problem, pop up housing has spread across a glittering entertainment district, where ritz and glamour butt heads with homelessness and despair.

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.

Along a once buzzing strip of Hollywood Boulevard, the fabled Pantages Theater actually hosted the Academy Awards for a decade, but currently sits unoccupied, its evening silhouette once gilded in blazing neon that's now been extinguished.
Along a once buzzing strip of Hollywood Boulevard, the fabled Pantages Theater actually hosted the Academy Awards for a decade, but currently sits unoccupied, its evening silhouette once gilded in blazing neon that’s now been extinguished.

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.

At the radius of my circumambulating walk is my home, the aptly named El Centro. It is a warren of lush tropical gardens, fountains and fire pits, which is depicted on this storefront display luring potential future residents.
At the radius of my circumambulating walk is my home, the aptly named El Centro. It is a warren of lush tropical gardens, fountains and fire pits, which is depicted on this storefront display luring potential future residents.

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 

What a Famous Photographer Sees: Lockdown 3

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 Peter GuttmanFodors Travel Publications and Skyhorse Publishing about unique adventures and hotels around the world.  What a Famous Photographer Sees: Lockdown 4

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

How To Maintain Mental and Physical Health When Traveling

A Packing Primer: What, What Not to Bring

Print Friendly, PDF & Email