Erin Sullivan (@erinoutdoors) is a traveling photographer and writer based in LA. Her new miniature series, #OurGreatIndoors, re-imagines travel using household items to create whimsical indoor adventures. We partnered with Erin to bring our new Backyard Camping Series to life in the most magical way. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Salt & Straw: As a traveling photographer, things must have drastically changed for you when COVID hit. How has your mindset and work shifted over the past few months?
Erin: When we went into lock down in mid-March, I started thinking of ways to stay connected while staying home. I thought about creating little adventure scenes using stuff in my house. I discovered a whole genre of miniature photography. There were so many talented artists doing it. That’s when I started my miniature series #OurGreatIndoors. I started sketching out and creating a few different scenes and shared those on social. It really caught on and resonated with people. This series gained momentum, so I started working more in miniature and it became a substantial series that others are now trying out and contributing to. It makes me happy to be in this together. It’s been a really big blessing in a tough time.
S&S: In your TED talk, you discuss the importance of photographing with intention, especially when it comes to documenting sacred lands. Can you speak more about the importance of acknowledging the history behind the sites that you photograph?
Erin: It's important to always remember you’re a visitor to the places you travel. And in order to gain a full understanding of a place, you have to learn about the original stewards of the land - the people who have lived on, and cared for, the land for thousands of years. That is the foundation for what you’re standing on. We have to do our part as individual travelers to learn and listen.
S&S: Can you talk a little bit about the inspiration behind your Camp Salt & Straw shoot?
Erin: When I’m photographing, I’m always trying to communicate a feeling. And I had always been curious about doing scenes with ice cream, so I was really excited about it. Tyler walked me through the flavors and painted that picture for me. Once I spoke with him, I could see it so clearly in my head.
- Huckleberry River - This flavor felt calm and reflective to me. With the gorgeous color of the huckleberry jam, I had no choice but to create a river for the figure to canoe down! I imagine them paddling through this peaceful scene on a summer morning.
- S’more Bonfire - I wanted to create the fun energy of friends around a bonfire. I used hazelnut paste and praline as the ground, and put the figures under a starry night. I imagine them making Salted Hazelnut Praline S’mores while their friends set up camp.
- Buttermilk Pancake Hills - Nothing like a morning at camp. Learning about this flavor, I imagined the feeling of waking up to the smell of coffee, and bacon on the cast iron. Here the figure is enjoying a late morning with the dog, after breakfast.
S&S: Photographing ice cream can be particularly challenging.
Erin: It was definitely a challenge. It looks so good, but it melts! I needed to be extra quick when I was setting up a scene. I felt prepared because Tyler talked me through what goes into the right scoop and I had done a lot of research looking at the Salt & Straw Cookbook. The Buttermilk Pancake, Bacon & Eggs was so photogenic. The Huckleberry Cast Iron Cornbread (v) has a low melting point, so that was a little difficult. And the Salted Hazelnut Praline S’mores was really gooey so it was overall a really satisfying challenge. I like food photography when it’s whimsy.
S&S: Your job has taken you around the world, from photographing brown bears in Alaska to swimming with humpbacks in Tonga. Where is the first place you want to visit when it’s safe?
Erin: Greece is close to my heart. I typically visit 1 to 2 times a year and I’m excited to get back, particularly the mountains. It’s an inexplicable thing, I just feel at home there.
S&S: How has this time at home changed your outlook on the future of travel? Do you plan on continuing your miniature series when you’re able to travel again?
Erin: I will continue shooting my miniature series indefinitely. It brought so much joy and surprise to my workflow and my work. It not only gives my clients room to play in a new way, but it has also made them smile. We’re in a time we’ve never been before and it’s been a really cool opportunity. I don’t know when travel will go back to any semblance of what it was before. I miss it dearly, but I’m adjusting. I’m doing more local trips in California and looking at parts of photography I haven’t really explored before. Like today I’m looking at different telescopes for astrophotography. It’s been a time of forced stillness for those who love to travel, and I think it’s a good reminder that there’s still a lot to learn and see wherever you are.
S&S: We have to ask — do you have a sweet tooth?
Erin: I *definitely* have a sweet tooth. I live close to the Salt & Straw on Abbot Kinney and it is my dream date.
S&S: If you were an ice cream flavor, what would you be?
Erin: Hmm...Mint Chocolate Chip.
Our Backyard Camping Series is now available at scoop shops and for nationwide shipping. And you can bring #OurGreatIndoors into your home with our Pints & Postcards Pack. To learn more about Erin Sullivan, please visit her website here.