With cameras in hand, Sharon and Jessica Bussert bought an RV in 2014, moved in and hit the road for a three-year photography adventure spanning the U.S., from their home state of Indiana to the West Coast. Their dog, Shadow, and cat, Midnight, came along for the ride, which included pit stops at Yosemite National Park, the Oregon Coast, Northern California, the Nevada desert, Glacier National Park in Montana and the Columbia River Gorge.
Now, By Hand Gallery, located at 101 W. Kirkwood Ave., will display photos from the trip in a free gallery, which is titled "On the Road" and is open until Aug. 31.
“Today they are back home in Indiana,” Tova Lesko, manager of By Hand, said. “By offering them a chance to show their work in By Hand Gallery, it is a wonderful opportunity for us to see their journey come full circle.”
Sharon, a landscape and wildlife photographer, said the trip was not a spur of the moment decision. Jessica, a registered nurse, had been interested in travel nursing for some time, and the couple saw it as an opportunity to explore the country and take some pictures.
But Sharon was initially resistant to the idea of traveling in an RV and suggested renting houses instead. She couldn’t see how two people and two animals could share the small living space, but soon found cutting extra, unnecessary belongings could go a long way.
“It was way more fun than I expected,” she said. “As soon as we moved in, I just loved it.”
Sharon said she also loved how they didn’t have to live out of a suitcase or keep unpacking and repacking their belongings. If they were travelling long distances and got tired, they could just park somewhere and sleep.
“And if we decided we wanted to go somewhere, we could just drive up with our house and hang out for a few days,” she said.
Another perk was that the RV allowed Sharon and Jessica to stay in one place for as long as they needed to. As a result, they could return to the same location to shoot multiple times.
“If the lighting wasn’t just right the first time, you can go back,” Sharon said. “If you’re just in one place for three hours and it happens to be really bright sunlight with harsh shadows, there’s nothing you can do about it. When you’re staying in the area, you can go back in different lighting, weather, time of day.”
For Sharon, the biggest challenge of RV life was still space, especially when matting, framing and packaging photos for sale or for shows.
“We would completely trash the RV just trying to frame 10 pictures,” she said. “And then, we’d live with them in the middle of the floor until we got to the show because we had nowhere else to put them.”
The RV also wasn’t the ideal darkroom because it let in a lot of light, so the couple bought an ice fishing tent, draped an extra tarp cover over it and used it as a darkroom.
“Our neighbors got used to the fact that the ice fishing tent was going to be living outside the RV,” Sharon said.
In Yosemite, the pair processed their photos in the ice fishing tent before finishing the procedure in public restrooms.
“So there were a lot of confused people with a lot of questions,” Sharon said.
Sharon and Jessica also experimented with other photographic processes, including tintypes, ambrotypes and pinhole photography. In Sacramento, the couple worked with a woman who focuses on tintype photography, a mid-19th century style that involved thin sheets of metal coated in dark lacquer.
In Yosemite, Sharon and Jessica bumped into a photographer doing large-size tintype in a mobile darkroom in his trailer. The man invited the two to help him process his photos, giving them a chance to practice tintype again.
While the process is challenging and time-consuming, Sharon said she would like to incorporate the style into her future work.
Sharon said the experience also took her back to her roots in darkroom photography, as opposed to digital photography, which allows photographers to cheaply take hundreds of photos at once.
“When you get used to the digital cameras doing so much of the work, you can get a little lazy,” Sharon said. “This reminded me that to be a photographer isn’t to take 30 pictures and hope something turns out good. It’s to stop and think about your shot. And when you’re using these formats, you have to do that because it’s expensive to buy and process and time-consuming to process.”
Out of the stops on the trip and the 50 states and 40 countries Sharon has visited in her life, she said she could never pick a favorite place to shoot.
“Every single place I’ve been, I’ve found something I love about it,” she said. “We found something beautiful in every place we went to.”
Photographing their home, Indiana, can be difficult, Sharon said. She said photographers often become complacent about photographing their home because they see it everyday. They also may not carry a camera with them because they think they can always go back.
But Sharon said one of her photos of the full moon poking out through the fog at night shows the importance of always carrying a camera, even when at home. This photo was taken in the perfect conditions and at the perfect time in the moonrise, she said.
“It is probably something we can never go back and see again because there were too many elements out of our control,” she said.
While the couple values their trip and the photos that came out of it, Sharon said she wants other photographers to know that they don’t have to go on a vacation or a trip across the country just to get cool new photos.
“Sometimes the best pictures can be taken right in your own backyard,” she said.