Picture yourself on a road trip with one of your closest friends. The windows are down, music blaring, landscape rolling past. Scenery flashes by in bursts of dreamy color: dusty desert town, marbled pebbly beach, wide wintry road, Iceland. Laura Austin’s photographs have a way of putting you in the passenger seat of her journey through this world. The snowboarder slash designer slash writer slash photographer has a knack for storytelling, and her shots are all rich in unspoken narratives and genuine Americana. While many of them capture tiny human figures dwarfed by a majestic natural scene, they manage to convey a warm intimacy and a delicious spontaneity, whispering of campfire stories and cloudy days at the beach. As she puts it, “The goal is to tell a visual story that will inspire others to go out and experience the world for themselves. There is a lot to see out there and a camera isn’t always going to do it justice.” Not always, no, but Austin comes pretty damn close. She chatted with Resource this week about her work, the Great American Road Trip, and what storm troopers do at home.
You recently updated your portfolio with a lot of new work. How is this work similar to or a departure from your previous work?
Earlier this year I decided to quit my desk job and pursue a career as a freelance photographer. Allowing myself to focus strictly on photography has caused my work to progress in so many ways. The site update showcases a lot of the new projects I have done since I jumped headfirst into the world of self-employment.
Do you prefer shooting film or digital? What does film allow you to do that digital does not?
These days I mostly shoot digital because of the quick turn-around time that is generally needed. However, when I do decide to take a step back and go analog, I love the anticipation and imperfections involved. I believe those imperfections give film more character. Also, when shooting film, my photos tend to be more considered due to the limited amount of photos on a roll.
How did you first stumble into photography?
Initially it was a high school photography class. We shot strictly film and developed everything ourselves. There was something about the process that I fell in love with… how much work went into one image and how good it felt when it turned out even better than you expected. I still get a sense of that process now shooting digital; the steps have simply changed.
A lot of your photos have a soft, dreamy quality, with saturated color and big natural spaces dwarfing the human figures. How would you describe your photography style?
Hmmm, I don’t know if I could attribute any one style to my work. I simply shoot what I am attracted to. And as you said, a large amount of my photos feature a single human image in a vast, wide-open landscape. I think subconsciously I am attracted to this composition because that is the scenario I personally feel most at ease in: alone in nature. That’s my favorite thing about photography, what it reveals that is going on inside the photographers own head.
The other writers and I actually laughed out loud at this picture of the girl in the storm trooper helmet. What is the story behind that shot?
Haha. That was from a shoot I did for the website MeInMyPlace.com. That girl happened to have a storm trooper helmet sitting around her house. I thought it would be funny to throw it on her and do something you wouldn’t normally expect to see a storm trooper doing.
You come from a background in snowboarding as well as design and journalism. How do these other areas overlap with your photography?
All of those things play a significant part in the way I use a camera. Design taught me composition, journalism taught me how to tell a story, and snowboarding gave me a sense of adventure. And for me, all of those areas were forms of self-expression.
What do you think makes for good storytelling?
Hmmm… That’s a good question. As far as photography goes, for me it is about catching those in between moments, those things that every person might not think to take a photo of, when you are acting as more of a fly on the wall. You aren’t going to have much of a story with just a beginning, climax, and end. It’s those moments in between that make it complete.
You say you have “an insatiable appetite for travel.” What is your favorite place you’ve ever visited or trip you’ve taken? Where do you want to go next?
Iceland has been the most amazing place I have been so far, hands down. As far as what’s next, there are some areas in Turkey with some incredibly unique landscapes that I would love to see and photograph. Patagonia, Chile would be amazing for the same reasons.
If you could send somebody on a Great American Road Trip, where would you have them go?
Oh wow. There is so much to see on the road in America. For me it isn’t all about where the road leads you to, but more about who you’re with and the adventure getting there. But I highly recommend driving through a national park at some point. There are reasons that land is protected; you’ll have to go for yourself to truly understand.