We first met photographer Briana Moore after she responded to an Instagram post about our favorite road novel, John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, about driving through the U.S. in 1960 with his French poodle. Briana, as it turned out, was preparing for her own cross-country trip with her “half Terrier, half muppet”; after a successful Kickstarter, they set out in October, with her leather Bowery bag in tow. We caught up with her last week—during a stop in Marfa, Texas—and asked her to share some of her insights and favorite shots from the road.
Where are you today and what’s your next destination?
Today I am in Marfa, TX! This has been the perfect little town to relax and work, while still staying inspired. Next up is a few days in Austin. Truthfully, I’ve spent much of my life giving Texas a bit of side-eye, so I am pleasantly surprised by how delighted I am for my week here. The motto of The Lone Star State is ‘friendship”, and I believe this will be the start of a beautiful one.
When you meet people on the road, how do you explain your trip?
My description varies depending on the situation. I am always honest about the spirit of the trip, but the depth into which I divulge my purpose and goals for this project depend on the openness of those I am conversing with. The basics come into play: I am a photographer, a writer, a traveler, and dog
lover obsessive; traveling the country for 3 months. The kindred spirits and the curious minds tend to dig deeper. Others simply need someone to sit beside and to share a brief space of time with a friendly face. I explain what I need to establish commonality, and let it go from there.
Have you found there’s a common metaphor or point of reference for the cross-country roadtrip in 2016?
What intrigues me is that the very thing that inspired Steinbeck to take his trip in 1960 is still a driving force behind American road trips today. We come to realize that we barely know our own country. This is partly due to the vast sprawl of our nation, but it also stems from our need for comfort. We may fly into hip vacation locales, or visit loved ones in other states, but overall we often simply bring our own bubbles with us and remain safely ensconced inside. Life on the road forces us out of our safe spaces. We have the opportunity to live a little larger, while also experiencing new communities more intimately. Nearly every fellow traveler I have spoken with on the road is seeking a greater understanding of our country. It’s been humbling and encouraging to see.
Of all the places you’ve been so far, what has surprised you the most, in terms of being different from your expectations?
Montana. I have seen images of the landscapes and heard tales of the people— shoot, even Steinbeck wrote about his love for the state. I knew it would be something special, but I had no clue just how wonderstruck I would find myself. John summed it up perfectly:
“I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.”
What has been most challenging part of the trip?
My immediate reaction to this question is always an awkward sound, somewhere between a chortle and a sigh, and then stories of road mishaps begin to flow. I found myself underneath a winnebago fixing a sewage pipe. Strong winds in the Dakotas brought up buried trauma from a previous car wreck in Iceland. I’ve spent more time and money in veterinarian offices than I ever considered possible. However, those end up providing humanity to my stories, when all is said and done. What I truly find challenging are the battles up in my head, particularly how to navigate time with others without allowing it to distract from my main purpose on the road. I thrive in community, and I believe that everything is better when shared with someone you love. I find that when meeting new people, my story-gatherer and hostess natures work well together to quickly build trust and camaraderie.
However, when someone I already know joins me along the route, those same natures are in constant conflict. I find myself more focused on my guests who’ve come along for the ride, and I become less immersed in the path that I’ve laid before us. I find that I simply stop seeing at times. Or other times I see something that calls out to me, but feel stretched too thin to be able to stop and document it. I’m tired, and the lack of action that occasionally follows can throw me (and any artist, I would think) into a vicious cycle. As a self declared ambivert (who is with me?), I need a fine balance of fellowship and solitude in order to observe, retain, create, and, well, just to function. I haven’t quite gotten that down yet.
How did approach the trip as a storyteller? Has anything changed as the trip has progressed?
Is it awful to say that I still can’t fully define my approach? My main method has simply been to welcome when possible and to observe always. I guess you could call it a visual/perspective piece, as I am collecting vignettes along the way, but in many ways it is so much more. This undertaking is a new world to me. In addition to photographing this adventure, Travels with Quigley is allowing me to open up as a writer. I’ve spent years identifying as a visual storyteller, but after a lifetime of mostly private essays and blogs, my other love has finally pushed to the surface this year.
When I set out from New Hampshire in October, I was under the impression that I would be shooting incessantly, ending with a book heavy on visuals and sprinkled with commentary. What has changed is how often I saw something so beautiful, so meaningful, that I knew I could never do it justice with the click of a shutter. In those moments, I was so grateful to have another outlet to use. There is power in words. Honestly, my speech can be a bit awkward at times. My philosophies have depth, but I struggle to verbalize them. When I bring out my camera, or sit with a journal, I feel that I have found a space that allows my jumbled mind to calm and focus. This trip is allowing me to tell a story more fully than I’ve ever experienced before.
What has been confirmed with each passing day is that I want to share something that matters. I don’t just want to produce a book full of pretty photos that will amuse guests when they flip through it during a dinner party. I want my images and words to help others connect. I want to reveal truths that inspire others to get out, just as my favorite creatives have inspired me.
How has it been traveling with a pet for such a long period of time – and what has Quigley liked the most?
Overall, it has been a dream come true to travel with Quigley. I am unabashedly obsessed with that little muppet. There absolutely are times where having a pet is difficult, particularly when there are areas I must visit that he is not allowed. As a rescue who was severely neglected and abandoned, I know how important consistency is to his well-being, so as his only constant on the road, I rarely choose to leave him. I began the trip curious if my focus on him would hinder my observations, but, in reality, his nose twitches and ear perks have only strengthened my acute awareness of our surroundings.
In addition to the coos and head scratches (he is a blatant attention hog), Quigley’s favorite moments have been beside the water. Fetching sticks in the river, zooming along the surf, being taught how to dig at the beach by new canine friends (hi @lunapoop!), his awe and wonder upon viewing Niagara Falls, or even just enjoying bath-time traditions with his bff/my goddaughter — Water is joy for the Quig Pig. 🙂
What are your shooting with and what have been the most important items in your bag?
I’m a born & bred Nikon girl. For this trip, I wanted to travel light and not draw too much attention to myself while shooting, so the hefty gear stayed at home. When I’m out walking, my Bowery bag contains one compact body (either my df or my d750), as well as my lightest lenses, the 50mm and 24mm primes. For more intimate details and portraits, I bring out my 105mm macro.
I almost hate to say it, but the most important item to me on this trip has been my phone. It has become invaluable. The dual cameras in the 7s are fantastic. My notes app grows fuller every day. I am connecting on Instagram and other forms of social media the moment I meet people. I constantly record voice memos on the random musings that pop into my head on long stretches between stops. I even have my location sharing on (privately), so that my husband and family can sleep a little better knowing where I lay my head at night.
Favorite locations to photograph
Potato farm in Maine. Any and all National Parks!
Camping: Baked Aroostook potatoes, chili, & an Allagash brew. City Stopover: Steak, spinach, & whiskey.
Place you can’t wait to go back to
Top apps or resource you use every day
Dark Sky, Instagram, VSCO, Wunderlist
Thing you may never see again
An ancient logging road full of potholes, while driving an antique RV (lord willing).