Seeing ‘Our Beautiful Country,’ Even in a Pandemic

Local artist Brian Bowen Smith—a well-known photographer whose work can be found in art galleries as well as in two coffee table books—was looking for a way to create art amid the upheaval of the novel coronavirus shutdown. Smith, a commercial and fine art photographer who lives in Malibu with his wife, model Shea Bowen Smith, and son, Jona, for a time had a gallery in the Malibu Lumber Yard. He featured an eclectic group of artists, highlighting artists who were just starting out, including Best Buddies artist Catherine Benita Lugito. Inspired by the need to continue photographing even while society was closed off, Bowen Smith set off this spring on a road trip to chronicle America in this unprecedented time of social distancing and quarantine. As of Monday, Aug. 3, that vision will become a reality, as the photographer’s project has been funded and a coffee table book of the artwork will be printed.  

In late July, Bowen Smith spoke to The Malibu Times about the project and his inspiration.

How did the coronavirus impact you, your family?

“Mostly, my work has come to a complete stop and, even though production is slowly opening up, I think photography for my business will take more time. We have been spending a whole lot more time together as a family and recently we bought an RV and have been trying to get away a bit here and there, as we can do it ‘COVID safe.’”

Describe your vison of a road trip across the U.S. taking photos in your truck, captioning the heart and soul of America.

“I kind of wanted to see what was going on and, with most of the country being closed down, I figured it would be the best time.”

How did you come up with the idea?  

“We were having a virtual cocktail hour with friends. I was talking to them about just wanting to shoot and how to do it safely and decided I would try to photograph their daughter the next day from my truck, and the rest is history.”

What kind of camera did you use? What was your mode of transportation?

“I used a Leica M10 Monochrome and we were traveling in a 1995 Bounder RV that belonged to my friend, Sylvan, and we pulled Pearl, my 1958 Ford F100.”

How did you decide where to go and who would participate in the project?  

“We had a few ideas as we left. I decided to post on Instagram for people to send me ideas of where to go; as I got those responses, we would travel that direction.”

What surprised you about this experience? The unexpected factor?  

“Mostly how many people didn’t really believe the coronavirus was a real thing.”

What touched you the most?

“The beauty of our country. I never traveled across America [before] and couldn’t believe just how beautiful it is.”

How did the road trip change you?

“I will definitely do this again and want to bring my family. For the first time, I enjoyed alone time … I never really appreciated it before. I always like having someone around, but on this trip I got to spend a lot of time by myself, which just gave me time to slow down and think about what was really going on.”

How many states did you end up going to?

“I think around 20.” 

What do you hope the book will inspire in others?

“To get involved and help the less fortunate and also hope it helps people get out and see our beautiful country.”

Where can people find the book?

“We are currently doing a Kickstarter, which you can purchase there and, once that is completed and books are printed, they will be available at”

What charity will the proceeds go to?

“Feeding America,”

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