Garrett Cornelison’s Instagram name is also his philosophy in life. He believes — despite everything — that the world is “Really Kind Of Amazing.” And whether he’s traveling to all 50 states taking portraits of people, or finding the beauty in his own backyard, his eyes are open to amazingness all around him.
Cornelison’s photographs are bright, warm, and filled with the vibrant colors. They have a certain magnetic quality that leave you feeling like you too would see beauty everywhere… if only you could just slow down a little.
Last week, Garrett and I spoke about his work and what struck me about him was how genuinely he loves what he does and the people he gets to meet. He’s incredibly easy going, letting the journey guide him to the subjects and places that he captures. We talked about about his start in photography, his wild trip documenting all of the United States, and his feelings of wanting to do more since the election.
So what would you say started your love of photography?
It was a photograph for an arts festival in Denver, Colorado when I was pretty young. You’ve probably seen this photograph before, but I saw the picture of the gargoyle overlooking Paris. It’s a pretty common photo in that arts festival world. But anyways, I couldn’t afford to buy it and so I decided that instead of trying to beg, borrow, or steal for that photograph that I would just go take that shot myself.
It started me thinking about that journey as a photographer. It would be a long time before I’d end up taking that photograph. But I think that was the thing that triggered my brain.
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When I was young, walking through an outdoor arts festival I encountered one of those booths. The one where the guy, with the sharp goatee and the funky glasses, the bright patterned shirt and cargo shorts had traveled all over the world and collected souvenirs. Souvenirs turned "fine art" from those self-guided field trips that started at $550 framed / $200 unframed. This artist had wrinkles that told of overnight cross country train rides. He had a smile that told of his countless conversations with strangers. He had hands that told of entire days spent in dark rooms processing old memories. He also had a framed black and white image overlooking the Eiffel Tower from Notre Dame de Paris. Something from that image spoke to me, or maybe it was just my adolescent fascination with gargoyles. Either way I had no means with which to purchase this cliched masterpiece. But instead the roughly $30 I did have, I solemnly swore, would go directly to taking that picture myself someday. That opportunity would finally come years later while studying abroad in college. A trip that I returned home from, with 54 rolls of undeveloped film I couldn't afford to process (along with a passion for photography that would one day become a career) As a Christmas present that year my parents gifted me those photos. And in that pile of memories was this image – and one of those gee-golly reminders that we really can do anything we set our mind to and that this image, if purchased from that art fair that day would have been an exquisite wall-hanging but without the experience of my overnight train trips and conversations with strangers it would've just been another photograph.
Did you go to school for photography? Or did you sort of learn it along the way?
I just learnt it along the way. There was a semester in college where I studied in Europe. My opportunity came to get that photograph from the tower of Notre Dame. I came back with that image, along with 54 rolls of film from my adventures and decided that I clearly had a problem that wasn’t going away anytime soon.