Molly Steele

After a year without travel, we reflected with Molly Steele, analog photographer and reporter, to discuss what travel means to us, how to capture the moments perfectly, and leaving technology behind.

Teaghan Skulszki  – June 8, 2021

After a year without travel, we reflected with Molly Steele, analog photographer and reporter, to discuss what travel means to us, how to capture the moments perfectly, and leaving technology behind.

Oftentimes, people use travel as an outlet from the stress of everyday life, but the impact of travel is deeper than a relaxing piña colada poolside. “We explore a part of ourselves differently when we travel,” exclaimed Molly. “Having encounters with other people outside of my day-to-day changed me, they expose you to ideas that aren’t in your daily rhythm that you need.” Travel promotes deep growth and uncomfortableness in you that promotes adaptation and change. Molly urges people to “celebrate the opportunities of stretching,” that travel creates.

When you arrange your next trip, consider your needs. “When I plan a trip I think about what kind of elements my environment that I’m living in is lacking,” Molly explained. “Sometimes I go somewhere because I want rain or the sound of water rushing,” a simple desire for any Angeleno. She even considers this while choosing her transportation. “I travel by what I’m needing in my life,” said Molly. “Sometimes I need more control in my life so I take my car (an old Mercedes) or if I want to relinquish control, I’ll take a train.” Travel does not need accessories, camper vans, or plans, traveling just needs a path. “Don’t worry too much about the details generally, you can solve your problems as you go along,” Molly smiled.

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However, the intentions you set when you travel must go beyond yourself. Molly Steele addressed the importance of understanding your environment by, as she put it, “making an intention to understand some context of where you’re going, whose land you’re on, the ecology, history, and culture of people who lived there before.” There are lessons hidden between the trees, through the land. When you understand the context of an environment, you separate yourself from an average tourist and become a traveler. “When you come into their space, you are given an opportunity to plug in deeper than a tourist,” explained Molly.

Molly Steele

When thinking about the context of an environment one place comes to Molly’s mind: the Lost Coast. “The Lost Coast is my favorite place,” she smiled. “It has a lot of history of native people whose land was taken and for a long time it wasn’t inhabited so nature was able to flourish.” The Lost Coast is often overlooked when it comes to California escapes but there is so much to be discovered with years of rich history and nature. “We have to consider our impact on nature when traveling,” Molly said. “The name implies it has been influenced before but has had the time to regrow; It is one of the few places in California that still feels wild.”

Molly Steele

Although solo travel can be very rewarding, traveling with others deepens relationships. ”When traveling with friends, partners, or family, you see where people are nurturing and looking out for one another, or on the other hand, where they lack in some areas,” said Molly. “Especially if you’re traveling with a partner, you become aware of differences and experience vulnerability together.” When we travel, we are much more susceptible to uncomfortable situations. Molly described this by saying “When you’re outside the comfort of your own home, a lot of creature comforts are disrupted.” When you travel, “you need to be adaptable as an individual, friend, and partner.” Traveling with someone creates a bond built on survival and dependence, it can make or break a relationship.

When embarking on a journey, it’s easy to get lost in between the “perfect photo-ops” or tacky tourist “to-do’s.” When you allow yourself to disconnect from technology, you give yourself a moment to ground yourself, and breathe deeper, not worrying about this photo or the next. “I’m feeling the weight of the internet today,” Molly sighed. “We’ve spent too much time looking at screens instead of nature. The point of nature is to immerse yourself in it and we have the tendency to try and capture it instead of reaping the full benefits.” This is why Steele chooses to leave the digital at home for all her travels.

Molly Steele

“When you travel and shoot on film, you aren’t able to monitor the photo you’re taking; you can pop out of the car take a pic, and be done with it,” said Molly. “You don’t need to over-capture a moment which leaves you with less of an experience.” She remembered nights spent in tents looking at digital photos and not living in the moment. “Film allows you to be more present when you’re shooting.”

Molly also discussed how shooting film has taught her affirmations. “It has contributed to me practicing radical acceptance and accepting imperfections because we exist in such an over-styled world,” she explained. There is no doubt that social media is only half of the picture. These false perceptions we see online are not accurate depictions of the journey. Molly laughed “Sometimes I like when a photo comes out differently than the way I pictured.” She went on to say “I used to struggle to communicate with people and expressing myself, I never planned on being a photographer but sharing things in a visual medium was helpful for me to communicate with people without compromising myself.” She explained that people tried to push her in her career to shoot commercial but it never felt right. “I was inspired by the different rhythms of life in the outside space and shooting on film allowed me to present in the moments.” You don’t have to search far for a film camera. Nowadays you can pick one up from the photo section at your local pharmacy or bring an old camera back to life by buying one second-hand or at a thrift store.

Man in swimming hole in the desert

Molly Steele

The West coast offers so many different environments, each with their own story and impact. Molly reflected upon her favorites saying “the eastern Sierra Nevada high desert is inspiring to me, but there’s something about upper sagebrush in alpines that is special to me.” She went on to say that “the upper coast, where it is rocky and raw, thats where I feel the presence and power of nature, when I look out to the cold and dynamic ocean.” Travel doesn’t need to be complicated, it just needs to be an escape. Molly reminds us to “take in the land, breathe in deeply, and leave a part of yourself behind.“ Travel is a release for the part of our lives that is overwhelming, it shouldn’t be complicated, or stressful as long as you’re partaking in a deep exploration that allows you time to explore yourself and intentions.

Keep up with Steele’s adventures through her Instagram.


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