Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

New “America the Beautiful” exhibit recounts cross-country road trip


Traveling through Joshua Tree National Park, Ines Schaefer wanted to take some pictures of the trees. Along with her husband and sons, Schaefer has traveled along the coasts and the Great Lakes stopping along the way to capture whatever catches her eye.

But at this moment in the park, her husband was seeing something she wasn’t, a wolf he thought, and really wanted her to get back in the car. Instead, Ines stepped around the car to see the animal and found herself looking at not a wolf but a coyote.

“My husband is not so good with animals,” she said. “I stepped around the car and saw the coyote, and he was skinny and afraid of us a looking at the car and the photographer in me couldn’t let it go, so I needed to get pictures of him… you don’t get to see these animals in real life, in wild nature out somewhere where we come from. They’re only in the zoo.”

The picture Schaefer snapped of that coyote and other images from her travels are currently on display at The University of Alabama Gallery in the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center downtown in an exhibit called “America the Beautiful: Seen Through a Foreigner’s Eyes.”

Originally from Germany, Schaefer and her family came to Tuscaloosa in July 2014 from Hungary after her husband was assigned to the local Mercedes-Benz plant. Knowing they would be here for at least three years, the family decided to try and see as much of their new country as possible.

Over the past two and half years, they’ve taken three road trips across the U.S. totaling over 7,000 miles and spread across 25 days. They’ve gone to the West Coast and the Pacific coastal highway, traveled around the Great Lakes and driven through Florida down to Key West and back.

When she’s not traveling, Schaefer is still a full time photographer, offering “glamour sessions” where women can have their hair and makeup done by professional hair and makeup artists before having their portraits taken by her.

“I’m always striving to understand the culture I live in,” she said. “What makes a difference between a German and and American girl, because you’re culture is completely different to ours. You have these wide open spaces… we don’t have something like that. Have you ever been to Germany? It’s all tiny and cramped together.”

The United States, in comparison she said, offers a variety of landscapes you can’t get within one European country. To see the mountains, she’d have to go to Austria. To see a warm ocean requires a trip to Italy or Spain. And the ease and spontaneity with which Americans can travel surprised her as well.

“You just jump into the car and you go out there,” she said. “With all the motels and everything. We don’t have that in Germany. It’s really kind of like you need to plan it ahead and weeks and months before and here you just have the chance to get a day off or a week off and just go without really sort of planning ahead for months and months, you just do it.”

The road trips, she said, were inspired by a new perspective gained by moving to a new place. It also one of the key things she hopes to pass on to people viewing the her exhibit.

“In your everyday life you sort of lose the connection to your environment and somehow you have your path that you walk or drive everyday and that’s what happened to me,” she said. “I didn’t see the beauty anymore around me and when we moved out of the country all of the sudden I saw beauty everywhere. Every little corner.”

The exhibit includes photos from across the United States. There’s a dog in a yellow convertible with sunglasses and an abandoned house on the side of the highway with the sun setting behind it –– the piece that Schaefer said was her favorite.

The gallery also features a set of photos of the Mercedes-Benz SUV the family traveled in, a group of pictures just from Alabama, another of the animals they met on the journey, and a series dedicated to the roads they traveled on.

Schaefer’s excitement for the beauty of her surroundings is something Karen Kennedy, the director of the UA Gallery, hopes visitors can take away from the exhibit.

“So many times when we travel, we automatically want to get in a plane and just get there, just get to the place,” Kennedy said. “And I think so much of the process of getting from point a to point b, we’re missing the beauty between the places and a lot of what she captures is the beauty in between… It makes me want to take some trips where I don’t just hop in a plane. I want to look out the window in my car as I travel and see what America has to offer.”

Schaefer said when she and her husband tell American colleagues and friends all the places they’ve been, they often hear that they’ve seen more of America in two years then their friends have seen in their whole lives living here.

When it’s your home, she said, she understands that it can seem commonplace. She never did anything like this in Germany, but hopes to take back her fascination and appreciation for the beauty around her.

“You have the car anyways,” she said. “There are the roads. Why not just get into the car and travel and just leave the path that you are used to and just kind of like go across the borders and see what’s over the edge somehow?”

“America the Beautiful: Seen Through a Foreigner’s Eyes” will be on display at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center through Oct. 28.

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