The Healing Power of Nature: Anne McIsaac’s Arizona Road Trip

Sponsored by Expedia.

Anne McIsaac is a photo artist and art director from Montreal, who claimed the Instagram handle @yellowillow back in 2015 as a tribute to the joy and curiosity of life that she associates with the color yellow. “It means agency, and the chance to shape my own journey.” She believes that the time she’s spent on road trips chasing the warm yellow tones of sunset and sunrise has given her ownership over how she faces challenges in life, particularly when learning how to navigate a Parkinson’s diagnosis. Resisting the temptation to withdraw from her life out of fear, she remained inspired by the beauty and healing power of nature — a constant force to which many of us are turning for reassurance in 2020. Following a road trip through the western United States, we spoke to Anne about her journey with yellow and how it’s guided her life. 

What is it about the color yellow that resonates with you? Why @yellowillow?

When I started @yellowillow, yellow was definitely not a popular color. Quite the opposite. I guess I was looking for a way to distinguish myself (it was not called branding yet). My disposition has always been happy and I liked sharing feel-good, uplifting images saturated with color and life. I naturally incorporated yellow subjects with that goal in mind, and because my Instagram handle included the word yellow, I immediately got a lot of enthusiastic comments from people who caught it.

As for my handle, I think it may have been premonitory. I say that because when I first downloaded Instagram way back when, I had no idea what kind of animal it was and was not used to sharing anything personal with the world and I was a little bit scared by it. I didn’t feel comfortable using my real name so I thought of an alias. Immediately and effortlessly @yellowillow popped into my brain. I really liked the visual of the written word and the sound of it.

Along with being an art director, influencer, and all-around creative, you also have Parkinson’s Disease and have been vocal in your challenges surrounding it. How does that affect the way you travel and experience a destination?

I admit I only started recently talking about my living with Parkinson’s Disease. I was afraid it would label me as half a person and utterly un-cool. This world is so youth driven and fast to dismiss anything that seems to not convey the brilliance, fast paced mastery of public persona (ring a bell?)

The first 2 years following my diagnosis I only told my husband and very few very close friends. Even my mother didn’t know.

At first I acted like it wasn’t there and kept up the pace and the face. I was collecting assignments and experiences like a starving ogre, until I just couldn’t any more. By then I felt so helpless and useless that I just withdrew from pretty much everything — until I realized isolation and loathing was not my way after all.

So I decided that I needed to get back to the life that motivated me, which meant getting up close and personal with the world’s beauty — but with no more rushing through it, as I wanted to truly experience the healing power of nature. From then on it was carefully planned, energy efficient (both with regards to my own and to natural resources), and meaningful journeys.

It’s now cardinal to me that the destinations be nourishing and authentic, so I can unfold them slowly and blissfully.

On your trip with Expedia, you visited the American West. How does seeing a new place through the lens of the color yellow change how you saw this trip? Your art?

I once would have thought it’d be silly to say, but spotting everything yellow definitely adds bonus happy points to any outing. Everybody on board gets excited and giddy. I think it tints the narrative with optimism and energy.

What advice would you give to other travelers with disabilities? How can they feel more empowered to travel?

There’s way too much out there to stay inside. Get curious. Get out of your comfort zone and go create memories. Start small if you are fearful, like a 2-day road trip. Take it in small bites and with an open mind. You’ll see how much positive energy you build for yourself.

Traveling off-season is a good choice because you get the places to yourself and don’t have to wrestle compact crowds. Of course, careful planning makes everything smoother and worry free. Although you are allowed to make changes along the way!

How does color affect how you shoot an image? What considerations do you keep in mind when taking pictures where color is the main focus?

Color needs light. And to be more effective, yellow needs warm light. So it’s no secret that getting out there super early before dawn and making sure you’re in the right spot at dusk are givens. You build your day around those. Your efforts are rewarded with rich, warm and magical hues. The middle of the day is not an automatic write-off but it’s a whole different animal. Exit the magic, enter cartoonish hard edge fun. Careful composition and a clear idea of what’s the underlying story makes this possible. 

What is it about a road trip that makes it a special way to travel?

For me, the first of many advantages is the pace. You’re not always slowing to a halt, but you can take it slow enough that you live the transitions between places on a human scale. The fact you can get into almost every fold of the landscape is a definite plus. The vehicle does the stuff-schlepping and you can rest between sites. You have time to change your itinerary on the spur of the moment. It’s more intuitive. I can go on and on and with what I love about a road trip.

How do you seek out inspiration for your creative process? 

Does it show I’m a Wes Anderson fan? I’m inspired by the somewhat heavy editing and the clear-cut compositions. I feel these techniques add to the emotion and the story. I’m also very impressed by adventure photographers that live on Instagram. They open up the world and are masters at their trade. They make huge landscapes look easy to shoot, which, of course, they are not.

Where are you off to next?

Family vacation in Mexico. I used to run away in the opposite direction of the beach out of dislike for the idleness, but have learned to appreciate the simplicity and rest, another aspect of the healing power of nature. But that won’t distract me from scouring the area, inland and coastline, to get acquainted with all the hidden goodies.

I also have my eyes on a yoga retreat in Colombia. This is a country I’ve wanted to visit for a long time… To be continued.

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