WORDS Peter Chawaga
PHOTOGRAPHY Alex Hall
There has always been something romantic about the open road. The potential for life- changing experiences, for adventure, for inspiration draws us to the highways and to points unseen on the horizon.
For Alex Hall, a Nashville-based painter and photographer whose contemporary surrealism has been exhibited in The Rymer Gallery, Blackbird Gallery, and Art House, the call of the unknown came from a realization that he had been missing what it held.
“My goal to see all 50 states before I turn 30 began when I was backpacking around Europe a few years ago,” Hall recalls. “I met many people who were from various places around the world who had actually seen more of the United States than I had. That lit a fire in me to see more of the country that I was born in and live in.”
The fire was so strong that it pushed Hall to sell his belongings, buy a van, and convert it into a camper so that he could drive through the entire country—2,680 miles wide, 1,582 tall, and 50 states deep—and come back home with a new perspective. He spent 153 days covering nearly 20,000 miles, stopping at 27 national parks, 11 national monuments, and some of the biggest and smallest cities in the country.
In addition to a big, bold check mark on his bucket list, Hall hoped to return with a collection of photographs that would capture the essential, mottled beauty of the country and the allure of the open road.
“Over the past few years I have found myself traveling for inspiration,” Hall says. “In doing so, I have seen so many things that make me stop and appreciate the beauty of what is around us. I wanted to document these moments not only for myself, but also to share with others. There is something extremely special about being able to take a photograph of a specific place during an exact moment in time and then be able to share it with people.”
The resulting collection is a testament to the majesty that draws so many to our nation’s highways: bright-orange canyons against a crystal-blue sky, pink clouds swirling above white-capped mountains, a river running through a dense forest of deep-green pines.
“There were a couple of moments on my trip where the beauty that surrounded me really invoked an indescribable sense of fullness,” explains Hall. “One that stands out to me was while I was visiting Yosemite National Park. I had decided to drive up to Glacier Point to photograph the sunset over Yosemite Valley. I set up my camera about an hour before sunset and I waited, snapping photos as the sun went down over the horizon … Then, all of a sudden, for three or four minutes the entire sky lit up in vibrant pinks and deep purples. It was as if someone decided at the last second to paint a masterpiece in the sky only for a select few people who stuck around to see if the wait would pay off.”
Of course, the journey wasn’t all halcyon skies and purple mountains majesty. The ethereal moments were more than earned by the hardships of the road. Hall’s bike was stolen, he got sick, and the van needed maintenance. Plus, there is the inevitable loneliness that comes with solitary travel. But through all of that, Hall’s goal of seeing the country and capturing something of its magnetism kept him driving, to the benefit of his identity as an artist.
“I am now more confident with who I am as a person and an artist,” says Hall. “After traveling alone for five months, I really got a chance to know myself on a different level … Even during the hard times, more often than not, I would surprise myself with the way I persevered and pushed forward to achieve what I set out to do, and with that came a sense of confidence and pride that I think changed me forever.”
Of the thousands of photographs he took, Hall plans to select the ten strongest and create large-scale prints for potential exhibition. He hopes that beyond gaining a sense of the country’s beauty, viewers will be inspired to wrap themselves up in it more directly, maybe even answering the call as he did.
“I hope that when people view my photographs they can see proof of how amazing the world is and, more important, want to become an active part of it,” Hall says. “Perhaps they can feel just a fraction of the raw beauty that I have seen firsthand. I hope the images spark a sense of adventure in them to live life experiencing new things and to visit new places. I hope that the images provoke people to get away from their TVs and cellphone screens, away from their work stresses, to see what else is out there.”
See more of Hall’s work at www.alexhallart.com.