W ell beforeCalifornia’s stay-at-home order came into effect on March 19, 2020, Los Angeles photographer Erin Sullivan had a plan in place. She had been following the spread of COVID-19 in Italy and wasn’t under any illusions; it was only a matter of time until life as she knew it ground to a halt.

“I asked myself, ‘If and when we go into a quarantine situation, how can I stay creative and connected to the outdoors?’” she recalls.

Sullivan, who is best known for her travel photography (@ErinOutdoors), knew her world was about to get smaller—literally.

Launched during the first days of the COVID-19 quarantine, #OurGreatIndoors is a macro photography series, where Sullivan uses train figurines and household objects to replicate the natural world. Accompanying behind-the-scenes images reveal the magic is actually in the mundane: A crumpled paper bag forms the walls of a slot canyon. Hikers wander through snowy forests of rosemary trees. A couple embraces in front of a paper cut-out sunset. And, in the most polarizing image, bathers recline in onion hot springs; just like the real thing, the smell takes some getting used to.

DIY Jell-O Lake with miniature canoeists
“And on your RIGHT, you’ll see the rare shoots of the asparagus forest.” | Photo: Erin Sullivan

Sullivan’s goal is to create believable outdoor scenes—the type that would make you do a double-take when you scroll past them (as I did when mid-lockdown I saw her image of two tourists inside a glow worm cave; it turned out to be tinfoil, rain jackets and a hunk of rose quartz).

 

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“It’s not that I’m trying to imitate a real place. It’s more of a feeling that I’m trying to emulate,” she explains.

In the case of the canoeists on the gelatin lake, she wanted to capture the feeling of paddling on a mountain lake in the summertime, complete with an aerial “drone” shot. But unlike natural environments, Sullivan’s at-home set-ups are entirely within her control, meaning there are more details to consider. Each idea is sketched out first before props are sourced and painstakingly arranged. Then, she spends about an hour shooting each scene. And yes, she eats the edible accessories when done.

 

 

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“Being intentional is something I’m always thinking about when I’m shooting, but this project has made me even more deliberate and interested in details, like the shadows and textures of a scene,” she says.

Within six weeks of its launch, the series had nearly doubled her Instagram following and landed her sponsored posts with Honda and protein bar brand Gomacro at a time when her other work was on hold.

But even for someone who was managing to make lemonade, the rollercoaster of COVID-19 was taking its toll. When I speak with Sullivan in early May, she admits she’s having a “blah” day, the weight of lockdown fatigue heavy in her voice.

 

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“A lot of us are going through job uncertainty or can’t travel, or can’t get outside and do the things we love that make us feel alive,” she says. “I think that’s why this series resonated with people—it gives some joy, lightness, and a moment of being transported.”

It’s also why she encouraged her followers to take up the project’s mantle, writing on her page: “We cannot hold onto our ideas so tightly that we suffocate them…like love, celebration and laughter, creativity can shine when it is shared.”

 

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At the time of writing, more than 1,500 images had been uploaded to Instagram with the #OurGreatIndoors hashtag; a feed of LEGO figurines and plastic animals climbing grapefruit mountains and chopping down pretzel stick trees. Sullivan’s latest project may be miniature in its scale, but its reach is anything but.

“This series has made a home for itself in my body of work,” she says. “I feel thankful; I would never have created this had I not been forced to stay inside.”

This article was first published in Paddling Magazine Issue 62. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here , or browse the archives here.

“And on your RIGHT, you’ll see the rare shoots of the asparagus forest.” | Photo: Erin Sullivan

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