I am a self-recording wanderlust, documenting life along the back roads of the world. I am the eyes and voice of the open road,” Daryl Hawk has written.He means it.Further, Hawk believes in the possibility of having adventures, and because he believes, the adventures happen. If the rest of us can’t achieve that goal, well, no matter. If we’re fortunate, we’ll know, as Daryl Hawk does, that the journey itself is the adventure.
A corporate and portrait photographer based in Wilton, Connecticut, Hawk regularly packs his photo gear and takes to the road. He’s been in business for 10 years, with many of his assignments coming fiom the likes of IBM, General Electric, DuPont, Apple,IT&T and other members of the Fortune 500 gang. He contributes to their annual reports and brochures and takes their executive poitraits on location or in his studio. Hawk also does portrait for various business people, writers, musicians, actors and models right in his own backyard – the state of Connecticut. (In keeping with our issue’s theme, almost all of his work is done with 35mm equipment, unless someone specifically requests 2¼)
His portraits were his entrée into the corporate world. “The portrait business kept growing, and then I expanded into the corporate market,” he says, attributing some of his success in attracting and building that corporate trade to his business background. “I know what it takes to run a business – perseverance, persistence and follow-up. That was the key to getting into the big companies and have them see my work.”
Add organization to that list of business attributes, because that’s what it takes for Hawk to be able to take off a few times each year on his road trips and still maintain the corporate business that pays the bills.
Along with photography, the great passion of Hawk’s life has always been travel. “I really see myself as an adventure traveler and a documentary photographer.
“I’ve always loved exploring the back roads, and when I set out I get onto these roads as quickly as possible. After that, I tend to take it slow, to take the time to document whatever I see that catches my eye and interests me – people, architecture, landscapes, whatever it might be.” – Daryl Hawk
(Opposite page) “This is a pueblo church in Taos, New Mexico. Great lighting can make even ordinary things look spectacular, and things were very impressive here to start with. I kept shooting until the light was pretty much gone.” (Right) “George is a furniture maker in Pineville, Idaho. I was exploring the town and got into a conversation with him. He’s one of the most fascinating people I have ever met. He used to be a professor at a university, or so he said. I spent a couple of hours with him – he had a lot of things to say, and he played the fiddle and performed a little bit. It was typical of experiences I have when I visit small towns.” (Below) In New Orleans, Louisiana I found this charming gentleman enjoying the sights from a park bench.
My goal has always been to set out on the road. I’m always looking for adventures and memorable experiences, and I’m always trying to produce striking photos.”
A tall order, but Daryl Hawk is both dreamer and doer.
“I always knew that this was my great love. Both my father and grandfather were avid travelers who went all over the world, and to some of the most remote places. They took pictures and brought them back and gave slide show. I was influenced from the time I was a kid.”
The big question was, of course, could he make any money from it?
“It’s tough enough making your living in any kind of photography,” he says. And so his approach became eminently practical. “I decided that I was going to make time to devote to traveling and photographing – and marketing myself and getting people to know me for that as well as to my corporate work.”
And so he makes sure that there’s time in his schedule to dream about, plan and then take his road trips, mostly to places where there are lots of wide open spaces. “I’ve always had an intense desire to know the more remote places on the earth before progress spoils them.
“Each year I plan alit two or three road trips. Some can be quite extensive, as long as eight weeks. Sometimes I go alone, sometimes with my wife. We have a van and we plan an itinerary and a route.”
It’s not travel on the interstate, either. “I’ve always loved exploring the back roads, and when I set Out I get onto those roads as quickly as possible. After that, I tend to take it slow, to take the time to document whatever I see that catches my eye and interests me – people, architecture, landscapes, whatever it might be.”
And he wants the time to make discoveries, too. “Around every corner and every bend in the road, tip over every hill, I never really know what I’m going to see, and that’s the exciting thing about it.
“I have total freedom to shoot whatever I want, there’s no assignment, no client’s want list.” It’s all on speculation, so to speak, with the hope, but not the expectation, that when he gets back home he’ll be able to market the work.
Without assignments, he has total freedom “to shoot what comes from the heart.”
Each day brings something new and different, and Hawk will often improvise. “It’s important to have a plan, But I have to allow flexibility within that plan for unexpected pleasures.
“I get to areas where I decide I want to stay longer, or I get to places I thought I’d like but then I decide that I want to just keep moving.”
There are no hotel reservations, but he’s never really had a problem getting a place to stay. “I’ve stayed in some very rustic places, and I do a lot of camping – in the van or in a tent.”
Hawk’s way is the antithesis of driving in, spotting something, hopping Out to shoot it and then motoring on down the road. He’s meeting people along the way, talking and learning. It’s all part of the ongoing “Art of the Road Trip” project he assigned himself years ago.
Hawk believes in immersing himself in the landscape so he can truly experience his surroundings. “I walk into areas and spend a half day or a day or even longer, and I really experience what I’m seeing. Then the photo opportunities become even more plentiful. It’s tempting to keep driving and covering distance, butt that’s not what this is about. I produce the best photos when I get out and walk and explore.”
Explore also means meeting people along the way. “I take the time to hear
“Take it slow. Don’t rush through your trip. Really experience what you’re seeing. It’s not just a matter of getting from one point to another – it’s the journey that’s worth savoring.”- Daryl Hawk
their stories, to really listen to what they say about their lives I come away with a story about what life is like in their area. When you take the time to talk and get to know people, interesting things will happen that lend themselves to better photographs. People will take you somewhere, show you something, they’ll bring you into their homes.” For Hawk, it makes the difference between what might have been an average photo and one that’s truly memorable.
Hawk takes a straight forward approach to meeting people, but he downplays the fact that he’s a professional photographer. “I try not to make a big deal of iy. I tell people I’m a photographer interested in documenting different places and lifestyles and would be interested in taking some pictures to share with others.
(Boat Above) “This is Sally’s Cove in Newfoundland. It was late afternoon, probably a half-hour before the sun went down. It was right after a rainstorm, and you know how sometimes after a rain when the sun comes out the light is a little more dramatic. Everything was working, the light, the colors, and I composed and photographed in as many ways as I could while the light lasted.” (Children Above) These happy children were photographed at Fort MacPhearson in the Northwest Territory of Canada.
“I don’t walk up and start firing away. I’m interested in what they’re doing.” And he truly is. It’s not an act that he uses to ingratiate himself se he can take pictutres. Learning about people about people is one of the reasons I he’s there in the first place. Learning, experiencing and sharing are all part of the advernture.
Along with technique of meeting people, their are the techmiques of taking pictures, and ne of the most important to him is what he calls “stalking the light.”
“It’s something I’m constantly doing. Lighting is the key to evetything, and I get into a routine whree I’m up every morning, usually at 5, and on the road to an area that I’m interested in photographing. Then I’ll just sit, or walk and explore and watch things happen around me as the sun comes up and the early morning light touches the lanscape.
I love what I’m doing so much – to me it’s what life is about, getting out onto the back roads and seeing the different lifestyles, landscapes and environments.” Daryl Hawk
(Above)”Native Americans were performing tribal dances at a gathering of tribes from all over North America at Rocky Boy Reservation in Montana. I was allowed to get close and photograph. I remember I was moving in all directions, doing everything I could to try to come up with shots I thought would be a little different. I got up to the dancer just as he turned, and I got it.” “My goal is to get as many different shots as possible during those first few hours of the morning, maybe in one or two different areas. Then, usually around 10 or 11, when the light gets rather harsh in most places, I concentrate on meeting and photographing people in towns or finding interesting architecture – all subjects I can photograph in shaded areas. Sometimes I’ll use flash to fill in, but mostly just natural light.”
The “Art of the Road Trip” started about five yeats ago, during those years Hawk has been to Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Oklahoma, Kansas and Canada, as well as Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, Costa Rica and Jamaica.
His most memorable trip might be titled, North to Alaska…and Beyond. “I set off from Connecticut, drove straight to the heart of Nebraska, then picked up the back roads to the Dakotas, Montana, British Columbia, the Yukon, then on into Alaska, then back into the Yukon again into the Northwest Territories. I crossed the Arctic Circle and ended up in the northern-most town you can drive to in North America – Inuvik in the Northwest Territories of Canad. I drove to the end of the most northern road you can drive in North America.
“It was a two-month trip, and it was extremely exhilarating.”
Hawk buys all his film in advance and, as you might expect, keeps it with him from the start to the finish of his adventure. When he returns, he becomes a photo editor. “I’ll sit at the light box for a week going over the processed film. I’ll do a major edit, trying to bring the take down to half, then maybe down hall again. Usually I’m shooting between 3,000 and 5,000 images. I try to edit down to maybe 500 photos that I think are worth keeping and captioning for other use.”
“Each trip varies, but I shoot on the average of six to eight rolls a day. Some people think that’s conservative, but I don’t go overboard on shooting. If I think something’s worth photographing, I’ll shoot half a roll, maybe a roll, but rarely more than that.”
Once the edit is completed, Hawk will create a words and pictute story about the trip, the places he visited and the people he met. The story can be presented in a number of ways. “I give slide shows throughout Connecticut to all types of groups and organizations, and I lecture on travel and documentary photography. The title fo the lecture usually will be The Art of the Road Trip.” His shows are not necessarily presented to photo groups; most often he’s visiting businesses and civic organizations, schools and libraries. Sometimes he’s paid, but money has little to do with Hawk’s motivation.
“I have a real message I’m trying to get out there, and I enjoy sharing my work. Those are my main goals. If they want to kick in some money, that’s great.”
The story of the road trip also takes the form of a promotion piece that Hawk sends off to national magazines, design firms, ad agencies, tourist boards and textbook companies. The promo shows several photos laid out to tell a story captioned with anecdotes and quotes that relate to his approach to travel photography. “Sometimes I’ll get a call from someone who wants to use the photos.”
Hawk’s latest venture is a trip into television territory. “I do a weekly show called The Unconventional Traveler on cable TV in Connecticut. Although the show is usually about my guests – who, like me, love to travel and take photos – I will occasionally do a show on my own trips.” Hawk is both host adn producer of the show, which is a vehicle for his adventure, travel and photography message: “Take it slow. Don’t rush through your trip. Really experience what you’re seeing. It’s not just a matter of getting from one point to another – it’s the journey that’s worth savoring. That’s what you look back on. And I tell the audience that photography is a wonderful way to document their trip. And then I get into what people should do and know about photography.”
The show features discussions with adventure travelers, explorers, filmmakers, travel writers, photographers and others who share their photos, stories and information with each other and the viewers.
Hawk got the cable show pretty much by requesting it. “There’s often local time available,” he says. “You just have to ask for it.” Currently he’s trying to get The Unconventiottal Traveler syndicated.
“The show is a great outlet fot getting the tories to the public. No matter how I promote a slide show, I’m going to get only a certain number of people, let’s say 50, to attend. It’s nice and it’s fun to share my work up close with people and get their immediate response and feed-back, but with television you can get into tens of thousands of households. I have a potential audience of 100,000 through the program.”
What makes his guests “unconventional travelers?” says Hawk, “They travel off the beaten path, off the main highways, onto the back roads of the world. Being an ‘unconventional traveler’ also means immersing yourself in the landscape, truly experiencing the surroundings and getting to know the local people and cultures.”
“I really see myself as an adventure traveler and a documentary photographer. My goal has always been to set out on the road. I’m always looking for adventures and memorable experiences, and I’m always trying to produce striking photos.” – Daryl Hawk
Along with the experience, there is an urgency. “I have this great fear that our world is changing so quickly and so many things – whole cultures, landscapes – are vanishing at an astonishing rate. I see it as one of my roles as a photographer to try to preserve these things through my camera. Once an old barn falls to the ground it will be forgotten, and a generation may forget their ceremonies, stories and artifacts.
“The nice thing about a camera is that it can be used to observe the details – to see the patterns in an old lace curtain, the laugh lines in someone’s face or the beauty of an old cypress tree. It forces you to look at life up close. With a camera I can’t rush by. I stop and take the time to analyze what I’m seeing, and I interpret it and photograph it in a way I think will be memorable.”
These are not, in any sense of the word, snapshots – visual notes taken about what’s been quickly seen and just as quickly passed by. At best they are the record of what was observed and studied. In most cases a Daryl Hawk photograph means that time has been spent and attention paid. Hawk is at all times a pro approaching with a very deliberate, specific purpose. It’s not just the light that he stalks. And the quality of the results is important.
“What I first try to do is determine the reason – why am I’m taking the photo? Then I figure the best way to approach it. I scrutinize the surroundings very carefully, and then use the camera ‘s viewfinder to frame and determine which elements attract me the most.
I use my camera as a tool to slow down the rushing world. Everybody is racing around with so many things to do; we’re all so busy with our lives. Even when people travel on their vacations, it’s hard for them not to be in the same hurry-up mode they’ve been so wound up in for the rest of the year.”
Slowing down the rushing world also means that Hawk has to slow down his business. The demands and schedules of a corporate photographer might seem at odds with Hawk’s philosophy of the leisurely road trip, but he makes it work with careful planning and a good dose of flexibility. “You can make the time if you know how. You have to be well-organized and really know your business. I figure out ways to get away for a month or two and still have the business going – the business doesn’t just stop. I have systems with answering machines and services, an assistant to look over things, and I do check in with my answering service. I can’t ignore my business, and even though I have freedom on the road, I have to come back to reality every few days and check messages and call people.”
Hawk says that he knows he loses some business by being away, but he really has no choice. His travels aren’t vacations; the road trip isn’t a hobby. “It’s such a high priority in my life,” he says. “It’s the thing I love to do most, and I have to find a way to make it work.”
Any monetary return is secondary if not totally irrelevant. “I love what I’m doing so much – to me it’s what life is all about getting out onto the back roads and seeing the different lifestyles, landscapes and environments.”
Hawk’s basic traveling kit consists of three camera bodies, a half-dozen or so lenses and one flash. “The 35mm lens is the one I’m using the most lately – it’s my great love now. I find I can use it for so many different things.” He also favors his 28mm, and his 85mm telephoto gets a lot of use for people pictures. “I’m probably using three or four lenses most of the time. It’s too easy to get hung up in a lot of equipment. I believe in simplicity and try to travel light. Sometimes, in places like Bolivia or Argentina, I have to keep everything on my back. I’ll fly in and if I don’t rent a car, then it’s either travel by bus or hike, and everything has to fit in the backpack.
Hawk uses the same three camera bodies he’s been using for 15 years. “I’m so familiar with those FE-2s that it’s second nature.” The techniques are straightforward – meter through the camera and bracket when faced with unusual or difficult lighting. Although Hawk’s odyssey continues, it’s unlikely he’ll go back to, say, the northern – most road in North America, and, if you truly see yourself as “the eyes and voice of the open road,” then you have to do everything you can to ensure that you return from the Journey with the proof.