Anna Ayeroff is an artist from Los Angeles who finds herself returning again and again to the desert and mountains of Utah. She sets off in her Eurovan with her pup, Mei, and creates haunting double exposures of the landscape. Anna is always searching for the answer to the question, “How do I move mountains?” She comes close on the road.
We learn about artistic process, utopia, and letting go of anxiety on the road through Anna’s interview below ->
Move Mountains With Anna
Why did you choose to spend the month of April traveling in your Eurovan with your pup?
I do a yearly (and sometimes bi-yearly) pilgrimage of sorts to Utah. Partially for my studio work, to shoot film for an ongoing project, and partially for my mental and physical health. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and have always had a love for it but in my early 20’s after facing some health issues, I realized how hard living here can be on my body.
Around the same time, I was uncovering a whole family history that I had never known about. My grandfather was born in Utah, on a Jewish farm colony, called Clarion, that his father moved their family to in the early 1910s. The colony failed after several years but that strange short family history in Utah drew me to it.
After my first visit to Utah, I knew I’d be returning regularly. My body felt better in the clear air, my eyes were always wide, the movement forward on the road slowed my normally racing mind. The ritual of road tripping became healing for me. And Utah has the kind of beauty that perfectly matches my ideals. Everyone has different beauty triggers – desert air, vivid blue sky and orange rock are mine.
This trip was specifically timed prior to the launch of a project that has been in the works for years. Land/Light/Longitude is an umbrella title for the work I produce on the road, using the van as a mobile studio. This trip, I set out to define and tackle unpredictable problems that would arise making work, specifically photographic work, without a darkroom, let alone an actual room.
Where did you go? More importantly, what did you see?
I started in Snow Canyon State Park and around St. George, then spent several days in Zion National Park. I drove through the Kolob section of Zion which I hadn’t seen before. It was a whole different kind of magic. Then I headed to Bryce. I drove scenic byway 12 down to Kodachrome Basin State Park. Tried and failed to reach Coral Pink Sand Dunes because the paved road suddenly ended and it was raining and the van isn’t 4×4. Took the 89 North just past where it splits from the 70 to the site of Clarion, the colony my family lived on. There are building ruins remaining. I hadn’t planned on driving there this trip since I’d photographed it so many times before. But the trip had other plans for me and I was steered there.
On the way to Clarion, I remembered I had grabbed a cassette I had found at my parents house labeled “Ayeroff Brothers” (which referred to my grandfather and his brothers). I played it as I drove towards Clarion, the place where these brothers had lived in their earliest years. It was a recording of them speaking about their lives. I heard my grandfather’s voice for the first time since he died 15 years ago. It was a profound experience. I saw the landscape along the 89 with new eyes, often with tears in them, as I traveled with my grandfather.
These are the moments road trips provide that you just can’t plan for. I had no intention of taking the route I did or passing by Clarion, but weather, nerves and an undeniable calling there changed my plan. And then I remembered the tape. I’ve learned to listen to my intuition on the road. I do it best there. My intuition speaks loud there. Maybe because the road is so quiet compared to Los Angeles.
I stayed in Moab for a while after Clarion, then made by way towards home by way of Flagstaff and Sedona.
I’ve learned to listen to my intuition on the road. I do it best there…Maybe because the road is so quiet compared to Los Angeles.
Your longstanding photo project, “Moving the Mountains” is a body of work you’ve produced from the film you shoot on the road during your Land/Light/Longitude trips. You mentioned that you are compelled to ask the question, “How do I move mountains?” Photography is one answer – what are the others?
I think part of why I like driving on long open stretches of road is because I perceive the landscape moving around me, and not myself moving through the landscape. It’s a strange relationship to place. I see the mountains moving. Time collapses. The mountains shift place in my window frame as I pass them. I’m viewing them framed. In some ways, my double exposure photographs are an attempt at capturing the way I perceive the landscape from behind the wheel. A few views at once, cropped, fragmented, not the whole scene. Mountains moving.
You mention Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s early feminist Utopian story, Moving the Mountain, as an influence for your photography. Do you believe Utopia is a unique experience to individuals? Or is it a singular feeling that we attain in different ways?
I used to think of my trips to Utah as searching for an actual place for my utopia, my perfect place. I would visit these exquisite landscapes and feel like I’d found it. But I started to realize that leaving Los Angeles to find another place wasn’t going to change how I felt in the long run.
Utopia by definition is paradoxical. It was coined by Sir Thomas More as a play on the greek words “ou-topos” meaning no place and “eu-topos” meaning good place. So the actual perfect place of utopia is a non place. It can’t exist.
For me, that non-place of Utopia is internal. It is peace and perfection within. I used to think I needed to move to Utah to find it. Maybe I will move eventually.
What moved you to add geometric shapes to the more organic form that mountains take?
I started using triangles in my work years ago. I had this whole idea about the magical history of the symbol and did a lot of research on its use in occult practices. But after a while I realized that I was drawn to the triangle because it’s a mountain. Because it points upward, toward the sky, to the light. I like the idea of the reduction of picture to symbol, the simplification of a mountain into a geometric shape. It is language. It signs for mountain. It signs for stability. So I started using the triangle specifically as a way to break up space in a photo, to shift the language of the picture, to move the mountains, but still keep them linked to the landscape.
You don’t live on the road full time. Do you have advice for women who would like to take shorter-term solo road trips?
I think solo travel can really change one’s way of approaching the world. There is a power in it I haven’t found elsewhere. I’m forced to exist in myself in a way that I don’t have to on a regular basis. It’s often uncomfortable and simultaneously rich with growth.
For a woman interested in starting shorter-term solo trips who may not have the ability to commit to it full time, I’d say to just start and start small. But I’m also a slow and steady, step-not-dive into the pool kind of person. I started by just taking solo day trips out to Joshua Tree National Park. There’s no cell reception there so I really started to get a feel for all the emotions that arise for a city girl disconnected from her city life. My first roadtrip to Utah I stayed in cheap hotels. Once I got the Eurovan, I started camping. That allowed me to extend the length of my trips and add shorter ones in between.
Traveling a long distance in a short trip can really slow down time. I recently did a trip from Los Angeles to Mono Lake to Death Valley in the span of two days and it felt like a whole week. All you really need to get the start of that solo travel rush is a weekend. You’ll likely be tired when you return home but it is beyond worth it.
Take a photo of your five must have items for road tripping.
Mei, for cuddles, talking to, and laughs
Books, for feeling connected, by Rebecca Solnit for feeling affirmed.
Camera, for moments
Tapes, for presence
Cyanotype Paper, for making marks
What did you learn about yourself on this last trip?
One of the hardest things for me about being on the road alone isn’t the being alone part (although I’m not quite alone because my dog is a companion like no other). The hardest part for me is fighting the voice inside me that says I have to do things a certain way.
I plan out all of my trips before I leave. There’s a set agenda and pacing. I plan because I have anxiety if I don’t. But the reality of the trip is rarely what I plan for and if I force myself to stick to my plan, I end up anxious again. This trip, I let myself adapt as I went along. It changed radically. I had planned to go through New Mexico, my other favorite state, on the tail end of the trip but there were intense thunderstorms and driving in that weather for days just didn’t work for me. So I listened. And I adapted.
Does travel invigorate you creatively? How do you feel when you return home?
I feel most myself when I am on the road solo. The motion of the landscape passing by in the window is so stimulating. I feel deeply connected to my creative voice. I’m quite introverted so I can easily lose my creative focus when others are present, both physically and virtually. When I’m on the road my loved ones know to keep contact to a minimum. I have the dearest best friends who somehow seem to reach out at just the moment I need them and never more.
When I return home, my body and mind continue to feel like they are moving forward, similarly to when you get off a treadmill and you feel like you’re still on it. It’s kind of a phantom movement. It takes a while to return to a more stationary life.
What’s next? (For your work and your life – it’s OK not to know the answer)
For Projects: This June, I will lauch the Land/Light/Longitude Subscription Series. Collectors can subscribe to receive artworks that I make on the road by mail. It’s a more immediate way for me to produce and share work. Making on the road involves allowing more chance happenings and this project is an attempt at wholly embracing that.
For Road trips: In June, my sister and I are taking a short trip, hoping to make our way through Zion to Horseshoe Bend and Sedona together. Then later in the summer I have a trip planned to Zion (again) and hopefully up through Utah to Yellowstone. These two trips will be part of the Land/Light/Longitude Subscription Series, along with a few others over the next year.
Photos by Anna Ayeroff
This article contains affiliate links, which help She Explores by earning a commission on sales at no additional cost to you. Learn more here.