Travel through the Horizons of an America that Nature Dominates

“You gather so many memories while living on the road. It’s the people you meet, the nights you spend by the campfire, the meals you cook in the middle of nowhere and the star filled skies that just make you appreciate being present.”
- Dan Lior

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In films, America is seen in snapshots of the impersonal metropolis: gleaming skyscrapers, crowded streets and dirty subways. But during five months on the road with his camera and wife in a camper-style converted Chevy Suburban, photographer Dan Lior captured another America for his series American Sky.

In the vastness of the space between cities or even towns, Dan developed a love for simply being present in places and moments. His images of snowcapped mountains, lonely deserts and endless starry skies give you an insight into the America that exists between towns and cities in all its vastness.

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We met up with Dan to learn more about the road to American Sky.

THE PLUS: In the travels across America that led to this project, which came first – the idea for the trip or the idea for the photo series?
Dan Lior:
This trip was something that my wife and I were planning for a few years. Exploring the US was something we have both always wanted to do. The idea for this project developed organically on the road. A few weeks into our trip I was really taken by the beauty and vastness of the landscapes we passed. I was amazed by how quickly the scenery changes on only a few hours’ drive and I wanted to capture it all. I took the first photo overlooking the Tetons and just like that, the project was born.

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TP: Did any one location stand out as a favorite, either to photograph or to visit? Why?
DL:
There are too many to count, there’s beauty in every place we went. I loved the moodiness of the Oregon coast, the beauty of the snow covered Rockies in Colorado, and the rugged and wild nature of Montana. Every time I try to pick one, I feel like I should pick another. However, movie road in Alabama Hills was definitely amazing to visit and photograph. I knew it was a location to photograph at sunrise but we arrived in the dark and couldn’t see anything. I spent that night photographing the Milky Way. Isolated from any big population centers, it’s also a great destination for dark sky photography as well. When the first light creeped up on us it was crazy to see that we had been surrounded by these huge rock formations and boulders sticking out of the ground in such an otherworldly way. We quickly started driving to find the iconic movie road, and we got there just in time to see the rose gold alpenglow shining on Mt. Whitney. It was a very a special morning.

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TP: Tell us more about your background as a photographer.
DL:
I had always photographed for fun. After finishing university at the late age of 29 I began working at high-tech company. It just didn’t feel right and four months into the role I quit, bought my first camera, and started learning everything I could through the internet. Five years later, I’ve been photographing and filming ever since. However, I am only now starting to feel like I am developing my own visual language as a creator.

TP: These photos show a huge diversity of landscapes across America. Was this ever surprising to you along the way?
DL:
America is so huge and its nature is so diverse. You know the country is big, but you don’t really understand just how big until you drive it for months and see what little ground you have actually covered. Of course with all that vastness comes strikingly different landscapes. One memory that stands out to me is our drive from the sandstone desert of southern Utah to the Grand Canyon. I assumed the Grand Canyon would also be a desert but as we approached the North Rim we were greeted with golden quaking aspens. Some trees were even orange and red. We were not expecting foliage in Arizona. Later that day while overlooking the Grand Canyon it began to snow. I hadn’t realized how much higher the North Rim is from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It’s amazing what a little bit of elevation can do.

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TP: Tell us about the route and mode of transportation you took for this journey and why you did it that way.
DL:
We knew we wanted to live on the road and experience van life. While planning for the trip we came across a post on Instagram of a small family owned business in Idaho called Suboverland. Suboverland converts used Chevy Suburbans into the ultimate camper and overland vehicle. We chose a 4×4 SUV over an RV or Sprinter because it was so easy to maneuver on difficult terrain when off-road – which we did a lot – and at the same time could easily blend in when parking in a city. We planned on selling our car once we finished the road trip but after living out of it for five months, we became so attached to it that we decided to keep it.

TP: Some of your photos show man-made structures, while others stick to natural landscapes. Can you tell us about the thought process behind this representation?
DL:
In the movies what we mostly get to see are huge metropolises. But America was founded by hardworking blue-collar people. It was a country that boomed in the last 100 years like no other country, and you go out of the cities and the illusion pops in your face. The poverty, the isolation, the neglect. In first glance it seems like a lot of sadness but there’s real magic to all those small towns. The people we met seemed to be happy with life and content with what they had. I think an unseen truth from the American lifestyle is not only the nature that surrounds it, but also the imprint made by the American people who, for the good and bad, made what this country is today.

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TP: What made this project different and unique from others you’ve done in the past or since?
DL:
I didn’t plan for this project, and I think this is also why it is so different from everything else have done to this day. This was the first time I started a project spontaneously. All of my other work required a lot of planning prior to the project. My wife and I were living and traveling on the road, I took a photo, I liked it and decided to do the same thing in another location. I felt excitement each time I captured a photo that I knew would be part of the series.

TP: Did you find any challenges in this project?
DL:
A desert is a desert and after a while most of the photos would look the same. This also applies to forests, mountains, and every landscape we came across. I knew that if I wanted real diversity had to capture not only different landscapes but also different times of day, different seasons, and different weather. There weren’t any real challenges to this project but looking back, I wish I would have taken more photos.

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TP: Tell us about your craziest story from the five months you spent on the road for American Sky.
DL:
You gather so many memories while living on the road. It’s the people you meet, the nights you spend by the campfire, the meals you cook in the middle of nowhere and the star-filled skies that just make you appreciate being present.

TP: If you had to choose one?
DL:
If I had to choose one, it would be one night on the Oregon coast. We parked in a little cove on a beach in Cape Kiwanda. We weren’t very familiar with the changing of the tide. Earlier in the evening the water was so far out you actually couldn’t see it. As the night moved on the water crept closer and closer. Parked in that little cove, the water rose to a point where we could not drive out. We were afraid that the ocean might take our car so we drove it as close to the cliffs as possible, packed an emergency bag, and drew a line in the sand. We decided that line in the sand was the point of no return. If the water crossed it, we would need to abandon ship and climb out of the beach. Amidst all of our panicking, we suddenly realised that the ocean waves were glowing blue with plankton, and soon after, we noticed the wet sand started to illuminate tiny pulses of neon blue as we stepped on it. We woke up dry in the morning. The water never reached our safety marker, the soft line in the sand between fear and truly being alive.

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