Your project and photobook are about the massive network of superhighways in the United States, what lead you to this huge project?
I’ve had an interest in the history of the road trip for as long as I can remember and I made my first cross country trip when I was only 19 years old. That left an imprint on me and the way I produce my work but it wasn’t until 2010 that I really starting thinking about roads. My partner and I had just moved to Tennessee for a teaching gig and as we were starting to build a life together, we had a sense that we weren’t exactly home. Our town was situated near the junction of two interstates and there was definitely a connection between the rootlessness we were feeling and the allure of the road. In 2011, we went on our first trip together and those countervailing ideas of home and escape became the catalyst for examining the highways in a long-form project.
« …I tried to pick properties within sight of the highway so that I could drink in the atmosphere, wake up and work right away… »
From 2011 to 2017 you drove 100 000 miles, how did you organize your journey through US superhighways? Also, I understand that you stayed and lived in some places by the superhighway. Did your journey randomly drove you to these places? Or did previously decide to stop to these places?
I made around 30 or so trips over that period of time, some only a couple of days, others a few months in duration. There were times when I had specific places in mind, such as driving to Alaska, but for the most part, it made sense for me to drive without any kind of destination. It wasn’t that I would make up the route as I drove, I always had a specific itinerary, but it was helpful to remember that the road itself was my subject so a picture could be found just about anywhere. I stayed in my van almost exclusively as I worked, sleeping at truck stops and parking lots. Sometimes the winter months would be a bit cold, so I would stay at a cheap motel here and there. But even then, I tried to pick properties within sight of the highway so that I could drink in the atmosphere, wake up and work right away. As the final edit was coming into focus, I did target certain spots on the map that I felt was lacking, to make sure the work felt comprehensive in some way.
Are there some similarities linking these places wherever the states?
Many highways (the interstates in particular) were built to look and function the same no matter where they exist. So the erasure of place was something that I was constantly thinking about and trying to address in the work. That sense of dislocation I hope can be felt throughout the project, though I was very conscientiously trying to hang on to whatever thin thread of specificity of landscape could be conveyed. To me, it’s the mixture of those two qualities that makes the road such a compelling subject.
Did you speak with some locals or interview some of them? What do they think about the highway?
The thing about where I was photographing is that by and large, there is no such thing as local. Of course, people live everywhere and these roads exist almost anywhere, but if you stick really close to the road, everyone is just passing through. That displacement of the population is a huge part of why these places feel the way they do. No one is tied to the land, no one has to care about it or about the people they encounter there, because they aren’t really home, those aren’t your neighbors. That’s a very troubling kind of space, both physically and psychically, to be in.
Did these various journeys teach you something about the US?
Being on the road is probably the single most important part of my practice when it comes to understanding the cultural identity of America. In my everyday life, I have a bubble just as most people have, but these trips allow me to get outside that bubble and encounter people and places that I otherwise might not. I’m grateful for that.
Somewhere Along the Line was recently published by Kehrer Verlag. How did it work? Did they get in touch with? Or did you submit your project for publishing? Did you have to fund it? Did you involve in the book design, photo-editing, paper choice?
I approached Kehrer along with many other publishers a few years before the project was finished. I had made two book dummies and showed those to as many people as I could, but because of the location much of my contact was made through email, so a PDF was sent in this case. At first, they said no, but I approached them again about a year later and they had a different reaction. After a little back and forth, they agreed to publish. I had to supply the funding – of which I personally paid half, the other half was generated via Kickstarter. The edit and sequence were entirely mines and we collaborated on the design elements. I was involved in every single decision from the texture on the cover to the endpapers, the typefaces, and sizes, the color of the headbands and paper and varnish choices, etc. There are a lot of decisions that have to be made and I think it’s important to have a hand in all of them if you can.
« For this project, in particular, movies and books were a big influence because they share that common history of the road trip in such an important way. »
I read in another interview that most of your influences don’t come from photography. Could you tell us more about it?
I don’t know that I’d say that – every day of my life involves photography in some form or another and I’m continuously looking to the history of the medium for nourishment. But I do think it can be helpful to look beyond those parameters when doing research or gathering inspiration. For this project, in particular, movies and books were a big influence because they share that common history of the road trip in such an important way.
How do you look at the medium today?
I see photography today as a wondrously chaotic and continuously shifting space. There are so many people making so much interesting work in different voices and coming from different perspectives, I think it’s an exciting time but it can also be overwhelming if you don’t take a break from it every once in a while. It’s nice to have some other distractions.
What camera did you use for the project?
Most of the pictures were made with a 4×5 field camera although a few earlier images were made using an 8×10. Aside from the expense, the 8×10 was just too cumbersome and I couldn’t work as discretely and as quickly as I wanted to.
Your 5 favorite photobooks?
This is an impossible question to answer! Just like with music or film, my tastes seem to meander with age and experience, but also more immediately based on mood or whatever it is I’m into at the moment. So this list would certainly not represent an all-time selection but is (mostly) built for right now.
Christian Patterson – Redheaded Peckerwood
Hannah Starkey – Photographs 1997-2017
Sam Contis – Deep Springs
Barbara Bosworth – The Heavens
Joel Sternfeld – American Prospects
Interview by Jerome Lorieau
Photographer’s Links: Website / Instagram
Book: « Somewhere along the line », Published by Kehrer Verlag