Made in California: A Trip Through the Golden State’s Glory Days

Photographer Thibaud Poirier takes a road trip across California to explore the nostalgia-infused architecture.

The mere thought of California immediately brings about intoxicating images of warm sunshine, pastel-hued homes, colourful Cadillacs and blinking neon lights along the boardwalk. It doesn’t matter where exactly you go – the Golden State is pure visual stimulation, embodying generations of history and culture.

“There’s something very nostalgic about the West Coast,” says photographer Thibaud Poirier, who recently embarked on a road trip across California. “I may get this feeling from the history of the Gold Rush era or early Hollywood movies, and seeing the state from the road had me searching for those details from the past.”

Nostalgia runs deep in California, a state that’s been forever immortalized in both classic cinema and also its architecture, which showcases the many different time periods. The Paris-based photographer wanted to capture these fleeting memories from the past, from the regal 1920s San Franciscan fire escapes to the playful 1950s theatres dotted along the coastline.

“California has a short but very rich history,” explains Thibaud. “It’s been widely shared through different cultural movements, mostly thanks to cinema. I think it’s fascinating to see the evolution of the landscapes since the 1850s, the birth and death of some cities, and the various architectural movements of the 20th century that have shaped the visual identity of California.”

In his exploration of the Golden State, Thibaud started in Los Angeles and drove up the Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu, Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo, Bir Sir, Carmel-by-the-Sea and Santa Cruz, until he reached San Francisco. “I spent a few days there, which was a welcome urban stop,” he laughs. “After that, I headed to Lake Tahoe for a long week and then down to Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park and Death Valley.”

As a travelling photographer, Thibaud tends to stray from well-known landmarks and instead wants to convey the spirit of the place he’s visiting down to the smallest details. He approached his California adventures with the sense of nostalgia reminiscent of films from the 50s and 60s because that’s exactly how he envisioned it before arriving. His photos capture the timeless nature of California, blending the remnants of its magical past with the vibrancy of the present.

“One can imagine riding a bike down the boardwalk from Rio theatre in Santa Cruz and listening to the Beach Boys,” imagines Thibaud. “Or the Summer of Love in Haight Ashbury in San Francisco against a backwash of painted ladies, the noble Victorian homes delicately painted and meticulously cared for as their name would suggest. And we can even imagine parlour music and John Wayne-era cowboys gallivanting around the once-bustling, now-ghost town of Bodie, in search of gold.”

It may not be the world’s oldest place, but there’s a lot that’s happened in California over the past few centuries. “First, as a promised land for the adventurous seeking a new life during the Gold Rush, followed by the mansions and manors that the nouveau riche of the West began to build in San Francisco,” begins Thibaud. “Then, it became a portrait of idealized post-war America, all squeaky clean families going about their busy days during the baby boom, happy to forget about the decade before. And finally dovetailing into a brilliant display of counterculture in the 1960s, which questioned institutions and tore down norms for free love and demands for equality.”

California is what dreams are made of. It’s something you can sense from the moment you arrive. It’s a state of unlimited faces – and limitless possibilities. The architecture is just one aspect where you can witness the feeling of bygone eras in the present day. “I wanted to represent my idea of California,” he says. “Whether it’s the abandoned mining city of Bodie, the theatres from the early 20th century, or the Theme Building of the LAX Airport, these buildings represent the evolution of the ways of life and artistic currents of that time.”

Words by Braeden Alexander – Discover Thibaud Poirier work here.

Director of Content