One Airstream trailer. One year. Fifty states. Thousands of pictures.
This is the life of Scott Jarvie from September 2013 to November 2014. His goal is to instill hope in America by capturing photos that represent Americans’ faith.
Prior to working on this project, Jarvie garnered thousands of admirers in his profession as a wedding and portrait photographer. Though this is a career he has loved, the day came when he was ready to try something new—something big. One day, after traveling between weddings in Utah and Arizona, he thought, “What next?”
Though Jarvie didn’t want to take a break from weddings completely, he was ready to plan his next big project. A religious man, Jarvie knew he wanted his project to unite religion and photography. The result was “Faith in America,” a year-long trek across the United States to take photographs and create “a documentary look at faith through the main symbol of religious buildings.” His photography, blogging, and videos keep fans around the world in touch with every day of his trip.
There was a time, however, when Jarvie wasn’t sure he would have enough money to make the project happen. In what he describes as a miraculous turn of events, he was able to reach enough backers just in the nick of time.
In June 2013, he proposed his project on the popular project-funding website, Kickstarter. This site allows people to suggest project ideas and invite interested parties to donate a small amount of money to help the project get started. Donors also receive something for their support once the project is completed. For “Faith in America,” donors receive photography discounts, workshops with Jarvie, and the pinnacle of the project—a book of his photographs.
Jarvie knows that his trip would have been nearly impossible to complete without the help of the Kickstarter supporters; his budget needed to allow for thousands of dollars in gas alone.
Enthusiasm for the project has been contagious. For example, photographer Alan Shapiro, a friend of Jarvie’s, says: “I have seen the power of faith. I have studied it through history; watched as it changed the world during my lifetime; and seen it firsthand as my faith grew, then played hide and seek, and finally emerged stronger than ever.
“I have also seen the work of Scott Jarvie, over time and firsthand. It is magnificent with an incredible range. I can’t wait to see how Scott shares his unique views on the powerful subject.”
Once Jarvie secured enough funding, he had to find a ride. This is where the vintage Airstream trailer came into play. After polling friends and followers, he decided to purchase this classic trailer and fix it up to meet his needs. Once the trailer was ready and Jarvie had researched the major buildings he planned to visit, he packed up his life for a year, entered the first destination in his GPS, and set off.
A Day on the Road
“I typically wake up around 5:00 or 6:00 am to capture the sunrise,” says Jarvie. Then he plans where he wants to go that day, setting goals for how far he will travel and where he wants to capture the sunset. But he keeps his plans flexible so he can “leave room for wonderful things to happen,” he explains. These wonderful things come in the form of ideal timing for the perfect shot of unique buildings off the beaten path. They also come from interactions with locals. Jarvie claims that some of his biggest followers are people he meets on the road.
One case of perfect timing happened when Jarvie was in a Nebraska town of “a dozen people,” as he humorously puts it. He calls the shot “When Fate Lights the Way.” It was taken on a night when he was short of his goal for how far he wanted to go that day.
When he pulled off the road to get gas, he met a man who told him about a small church in that tiny town. As Jarvie explains the event, “it just seemed right, so I put it on the to-do list for after sunset.” Around twilight, he made it to where the church should have been, but he had a difficult time finding it because it was hidden by a cluster of trees. Almost ready to leave, he parked and walked up to where the building should have been and found it—about the same time a lightning storm hit. The photo he captured was completely lit by lightning and one streetlight.
“I think the amount of lightning I saw last night equals about two decades of all the lightning I’ve seen combined,” Jarvie reported the next day. The result is a beautiful, almost eerie photograph of a small church surrounded by a graveyard.
Learning from the Locals
As Jarvie travels to photograph America’s symbols of faith, he is often stopped and asked about his project. (He says that it’s often the trailer that initially grabs people’s attention.) Many are in awe that he was able to pack up his life and travel the nation, and they often ask him how this has been possible.
Many times, the pastor of the church Jarvie is photographing has come out to see what he is up to. Sometimes people are suspicious since churches tend to be broken into. But once they learn about his project, he is often invited inside.
He even meets celebrities, like the time he went to church and met the cast of the popular television show Duck Dynasty.
In one location, Jarvie was just leaving a church he had photographed when he saw a man walking toward him in the street. Jarvie thought this man might be another person suspecting him of suspicious behavior around the church, but the man just wanted to see the Airstream trailer. As Jarvie told him about his project, the man told his incredible story.
The man had just moved into town and had started meeting with 10–15 other people for religious services. As the congregation grew, they moved to a community center for their services and began building a church. At first the only people helping to build the church were the man, his family, and members of the congregation. They cut down pine trees from their own property to build the floors, they built the table for the communion, and they even made stained-glass windows. However, as others in the community saw the church being built, they helped too, even people who weren’t members of the congregation. One church donated benches to be used in the new building. Through these experiences, this man saw how faith brings people in the community together and shows the American heart, always willing to help a neighbor.
Just as building a church unified that community, Jarvie hopes his project will unite America, reminding its people of the beautiful symbols that give them hope.
When Jarvie embarked on this adventure, he had plans and goals. But the trip itself has turned out to be different from—and even better than—his expectations. As he leaves room in his plans for “wonderful things to happen,” Jarvie is able to meet people from all around the nation, learn their stories, and become inspired by their acts of faith.
Jarvie’s interactions with people and his beautiful photography will touch many as he showcases the hidden beauty that dots the United States and the beauty of what these religious buildings symbolize: the heart of its people—America’s faith-filled core.
Photography by Scott Jarvie
I love to read articles about faith around the world and how it influences the cultures around us. Very interesting read.
This is a beautiful and very unique article! From the first line to the last line, I was held captive by the story that was told. I love getting the stories behind some of the photos, like the lightening storm. I think this story is really relatable to many people, through religion or through being American.
This is simply beautiful. I love how his journey to document the faith of others has led him to so many wonderful experiences of his own.
This is a beautiful and inspiring article. Both his story and his photography are amazing. He is a great example of showing that you really can accomplish your dreams and share them with others if you are truly passionate about what you do. Great article.
I really appreciate Scott’s vision behind the project. The article clearly emphasizes his efforts to unite America by reminding them of their faith, faith which many seem to have forgotten in today’s society.
I think this is a fascinating project, and I feel like it’s a really great example of Americana. I did visit Jarvie’s website to look further at the photographs. I appreciated that I could look at so many. However, I could only see Christian churches featured in the first few hundred photos, even though Jarvie’s website says he aims to photograph buildings from all faiths. I hope Jarvie’s future work features the wide variety of faiths that make America so diverse!
How fantastic that others were willing to help fund this adventure. The photography is beautiful. I’m inspired by others like Jarvie who are willing to think up an idea, mull it around, and then go for it!
I love the topic for this story. Sometimes, we religious people lose hope because we see so much moral relativity and even open rejection of any religiosity. This article is a good reminder that church and religion is still very important in our country; it just often goes unnoticed. I thought that the stories that the photographer got from the people he met along the way were almost more important and poignant than the photographs.
This is such a cool idea! I wish I had thought of it first. I am going on a big road trip across America this summer, and this makes me so excited for it!