We feature some of the brightest Instagram storytellers in the Passion Passport community through our Instagram Spotlight series. Today, Anne Cui (@anneparavion) shares a few of her favorite memories and photos from her adventures around the world.

A silhouette of a man at the Monument Valley visitor's centerArizona

The Southwest has always inspired me, with its otherworldly topography and vibrant red–orange hues. So, in the early fall of last year, a girlfriend and I decided to road-trip to Arizona on a whim and stay in the desert.

Monument Valley is a Navajo tribal park that sits on the Utah–Arizona border. The park is characterized by its tremendous sandstone buttes, which you can tour via a 17-mile route around the park. The scale of these natural formations and the vastness of the land is incredible, and combined with the changing desert light, shooting and creating photos becomes a real challenge, as the scenery can feel completely different from one hour to the next. Even when we took a lunch break at the visitor’s center, the space was brimming with tourists, and I found that it was just as interesting to capture the park’s diverse array of sightseers as it was to photograph the landscape.

Antelope Canyon in Arizona
A view of Lake Powell through a window

After Monument Valley, we set out to Page, Arizona, home of Antelope Canyon and Lake Powell. Antelope Canyon is a photogenic slot canyon that was created over time by flash flooding and erosion. As a result, the canyon’s narrow crevices make for surreal and painting-like backdrops, often dappled in desert sun and shadow. I took a geology course in college and probably would have paid more attention if the textbook imagery were this aesthetically pleasing!

When we left the slot canyon, we went straight to Lake Powell to cool off. This photo was taken from an unexpected vantage point: the campground shower area. I suppose the region really doesn’t have many bad angles.

The VDL House in Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles, CA

As a native Californian, I find myself coming back to Los Angeles time and again for architectural inspiration. My cousin also happens to be in the midst of completing his M.A. in architecture there, so it was serendipitous for us to reunite and take a design field trip together. Los Angeles is sprawling and notorious for its traffic, but we were lucky to explore the VDL House in Silver Lake and the Getty Museum in Brentwood on the same day.

The Getty Museum in Los Angeles, CADesigned by modernist architect Richard Neutra and his son, the VDL House exemplifies indoor–outdoor living, for which California is known. Mid-century modern design really speaks to me and, unsurprisingly, I found myself drawn to the open staircases and muted tones that Neutra implemented throughout the house. The abundant glass paneling combined with the bright afternoon sun made it challenging at times to shoot the interior rooms, so reworking and testing the manual settings on my camera was key to capturing these final images.

With scale, space, and light in mind, we ventured next to the Getty Museum. The museum houses an extensive collection of art, but during this visit, we dedicated time only to the exterior open campus and gardens. Architect Richard Meier chose travertine squares to cover the walls of the hilltop buildings, which overlook the nearby mountains, freeways, and ocean. The combination of geometric and natural elements is what drew me there (and kept me out of the galleries). The grid-like pattern of the walls stood out to me in particular, so I wanted to capture that design detail, along with the impressive height of the buildings, in my photos. In the end, I was happy with the visual souvenirs I took home from this trip.

The facade of the Hawa Mahal in IndiaIndia

Oh, India — what a brilliant sensory experience. These images were taken from my last visit to Rajasthan, where my friend and I traveled through Jaipur, Pushkar, and Jodhpur on a whirlwind two-week trip. We barely scratched the surface. Jaipur, nicknamed the “Pink City,” was our first stop and provided an impressive introduction into some of the country’s most majestic palaces and forts.

The Hawa Mahal, pictured in the first photo, was an absolute highlight and gem of the trip. As I discovered, the best way to capture it is not from street level but from a higher vantage point across the street. We came across this viewing spot by happenstance after shopping at a nearby textiles shop — the shopkeeper led us there after we left his store with trinkets in hand.

In India, you could certainly seek out a beautifully ornate building to shoot, but the truth is: beauty is simply all around you, even in the most unexpected and seemingly mundane places. Everything in India seemed extraordinary to me — the typography on a storefront, a stranger’s sari, a city bus. I wanted to capture it all. In the second photo, I caught a young local walking along a nondescript street near our hotel in Jodhpur. The simple scene seemed to play out in technicolor, much like everything else in the country. It was a wonderfully visual experience.

A boy in front of an orange wall in India

Once we reached the holy town of Pushkar, we took our time to meander through its dusty streets, listening to people humming prayers around us. During our visit to the city, we attended the annual Pushkar Fair, an event that attracts hundreds of herdsmen from all over the country along with their camels, horses, and cattle. In the fourth photo, I had observed a man with two camels attempting to cross the chaotic road for not a short amount of time — the path in front of him was full of speeding tuk-tuks and slow-moving animals. There was something so whimsical about the scene that I paused my own crossing to capture it. Eventually, the man and his camels found an opening.

A man with his camels at the Pushkar Fair in India

From the neon pom poms that adorned the animals to the deeply-saturated flowers being sold at the local market, there was not one unembellished detail to be found. Nowhere else in the world have I ever seen such vibrant hues in the most ordinary life scenes.

Hong Kong

My partner is an expat in Hong Kong, so I’ve spent a considerable amount of time getting to know the ins and outs of this bustling port city. The reality of Hong Kong is that it changes quickly — old storefronts close to make way for new skyscrapers and small businesses become increasingly nonexistent each time I visit. The city is constantly evolving, but I find that I’m most inspired by the traditional elements of the area — whether that’s the ubiquitous red taxi or a local tea house tucked away in a small street. I’m always looking for the details that make Hong Kong unique.

A man on an escalator in Hong Kong

Most of all, I enjoy walking through neighborhoods in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island and seeing what I can uncover along the way. Seeing as Hong Kong embraces bold color, many of its design elements have an inherently graphic quality to them, which makes them fun to photograph. In the first photo, I had been waiting at a stop light when I realized there was a bold color story staring back at me ― I knew the combination of red, orange, and lime would make for an interesting vignette. Prior to spending time in Hong Kong, I would never have categorized it as an extremely colorful city, but I now believe it is one of the most bright and vibrant in the world.

In the second photo, I had paused to take a sip from my iced coffee on a crowded pedestrian footbridge in Central, one of the busiest areas of Hong Kong. There was an industrial building in the vicinity, and I was just about to continue on my afternoon walk when I caught a glimpse of the uniquely designed escalator in the foreground. I then waited for the perfect subject to move into frame. The locals who walked past seemed confused that I had my camera pointed to a commonplace form of transportation, but to me, a white escalator set against a light seafoam-green wall seemed anything but ordinary.

A pink public bathhouse in Hong KongThe pink public bathhouse in the third photo is something I encountered randomly while running errands in our lovely neighborhood of Sai Ying Pun, another area seeing rapid development and change. I thought the light-pink facade perfectly exemplified the visual identity of Hong Kong, while also representing its finite quality. Maybe I’m just becoming too nostalgic too soon.

Shenzhen, China

As my partner and I were both busy with work last summer, we sought an easy getaway from Hong Kong and booked a weekend trip to nearby Shenzhen in mainland China. A short East Rail Line ride and an easy border-crossing later, we found ourselves in the design-minded city. Before visiting, I had heard that Shenzhen was a tech hub and the headquarters for some of China’s most innovative companies, so I was quite curious to see it for myself. What I discovered was a fascinating cultural haven brimming with art spaces, cafés, and quirky shops.

A person with an umbrella walking in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Shenzhen, ChinaAs it was the summer, we encountered thunderstorms throughout our time there, but it didn’t stop us from exploring on foot as much as possible. I loved the sleek backdrop of the Museum of Urban Art and Contemporary Planning, in particular, located in the business district and adjacent to the equally modern Civic Center. It seemed that the rain did not deter the many other visitors in town, and it was fun to see people with their brightly-colored umbrellas and jackets wander up to the spaceship-like building for a closer look. I found the architecture striking and futuristic, apt for a city established as a Special Economic Zone.

A scooter inside a building in Shenzhen, China
OTC Loft in Shenzhen, China

The glossy buildings that dot around the Civic Center are an interesting juxtaposition to the area’s OCT Loft, an industrial zone turned “creative park.” As a bonus, the factory buildings at OCT Loft now house eateries, special exhibits, and bookstores. I aimed to capture the charm of these buildings between the steady rains, as it seemed there were enchanting corners everywhere we turned. From the cream-colored scooter sitting in the front window of a ceramics shop (as seen in the second photo) to the bougainvillea growing in a local café’s garden area (as seen in the third photo), my eye was drawn to the many thoughtfully designed details throughout the neighborhood.

Overall, the buzzy energy was tangible during our time in Shenzhen; it felt as though we had experienced a “newness” in both art and technological innovation.

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Anne Cui
Anne Cui is a photographer and avid traveler. Having a background in art history and fashion, she emphasizes architecture and style in her work. She currently splits her time between San Francisco and Hong Kong, but is always crafting her next itinerary.