On the road with his father, the photographer documents the rocky landscapes and sprawling hillsides of the mountain state
The road trip never ceases in becoming a muse for photographers. For Geoffrey Leung, a photographer born in Saint Paul, Minneapolis, he recently satisfied an itch to visit Utah’s National Parks with his father by means of the car. Resultantly, he birthed a documentary series capturing the mountainous landscapes, rocky hillsides and creeping fauna of the American state. “Seeing Utah’s National Parks was the reason for this road trip and the photos that came from it were incidental to the good fortune I had to spend time with my father as an adult,” he shares. “It feels vulnerable for me, but it’s a story about heritage and habit.”
Growing up in what he deems a “great place” with top tier photography in the area, Geoffrey was influenced by his “practical” parents and was particularly good at maths. More in the way of academia, it wasn’t until around 2018 that he started picking up a camera seriously. “Up until then I was another liberal arts grad (Carleton) playing at being a professional,” he adds. Now based in New York, the photographer has rooted himself in the medium of image-making, to such lengths that his portfolio encompasses all sorts from motion to videography, personal series to commissions. All of which is influenced by the “sacrifice” of his practical parents, and their parents before them, as well as the essays from Susan Sontag, words from John Berger and many others who “take risks and are afraid to follow their gut but still do both anyways”. And Prince, of course.
So when it came to Geoffrey’s own excursion across the desert roads of Utah – with his father by his side – he proceeded to create something that was immensely personal to them both. Not least a risk of their own as they ventured into the unknown. Although the road trip isn’t a new or surprising subject matter, to Geoffrey (and his father), it’s a narrative that they hold closely. “I think that doesn’t make this story unique, but the more personal the photos are, the more relatable they may be,” he says. Taking a picture is more like an experience for Geoffrey, who marks the process as an “interruption of experience”. Whether it be formulated in the studio or on the road, each picture crafted through the eye of this photographer is one that’s been created with rawness, care and love. “I want to photograph instinctually to avoid thinking about a moment, or worse, changing it,” he adds. “The story can only be true if I did not really influence its capturing.” In this regard, the longer he spends with a subject, the more he’s able to learn and “deeply see” about their character and being. “Experiencing something beyond its physical appeal is necessary for conveying anything beyond aesthetics.”
Speaking of some favourite moments from the trip, Geoffrey points us in the direction of two photographs : “one with people spreading across a rocky outlook, one of cows grazing in a green field.” Both are luminous in their depictions of greenery, emphasised by the photographer’s decision to up the contrast and focus on the finer details. But, there’s more to these works that beautiful landscapes. “I’m not saying that people are like cows, but it is a funny trickery of language that one might consider,” he explains. In another entitled Sharing a View, Geoffrey has captured his father standing on the popular Zion hike. “This is the only frame I made of this moment,” he says. “But it expresses his youthful side, which I have never really known since he’s been a parent as long as I’ve been alive.”
Not only does Utah depict the wild and uninhibited lands of the the Mountain West state – where bushes grow free and water is somewhat scarce – it also portrays the relationship between two kins, a father and son. Geoffrey plans to turn the work into a book and will continue to build on this “instinctual experience” found in his photography practice. “One of my lifelong photographic goals is to make the women in my life feel beautiful, so I’m working on that too.”