I just got back from a road trip.
Northbound out of Austin to Amarillo. Route 66 to Albuquerque. Southeast to Lubbock. Then back to Austin. 27 hours driving gives you some time to think.
It seems like decades ago when I was in high school. 2005 when joined this site... photography was just something I fell into. It became critically important to me as an individual. I felt creative and proud of what I was able to express. I had an ambition at this time. To capture "America". I felt an eagerness to understand the country I live in and be able to express some sort of universal truth that everyone here could relate to.
It didn't take me long to realize that this task was very daunting. I kept it in the back of my mind always when taking photos. Keeping an eye out for the right photo to capture just what I was trying to say.
Something else happened I guess. Taking formal photography courses in college broke something inside me I feel. Taking photos just wasn't fun anymore. Instead of capturing a moment, or making a statement; it became about proper lighting and framing. I guess I killed it for myself. I tried to force myself to take photos anyway for a while. I even bought a better camera with all the bells and whistles. But... it just felt empty. My heart wasn't in it.
I tried other mediums for a time with varying levels of success.
I have traveled very far (both literally and figuratively) from where I was then. A move across the county, several jobs, a wedding... A lot has happened, and a lot has changed.
This recent trip though…
Route 66 reminded me of that distant memory of mine where I was looking for America. For that single image that could encapsulate it all.
Naive, I say again.
I did discover something. Not a single image, but a concept.
For those of you who don't know, Route 66 does not really exist anymore. Interstate 40 was commissioned as a faster alternative with fewer exits. Route 66 was decommissioned, and most of the businesses along the route went belly up soon after. Good old American nostalgia kicked in, and now sections of the road are preserved as historic.
Simply put, it is almost impossible to simply "drive" route 66. It overlaps I-40 sometimes, and disappears altogether at other times. If you look closely while staying in your lane and going 75 miles per-hour… All along the interstate, outside the main stretches of road are literal ghost towns.
Shacks. Farms. Businesses. Just abandoned and discarded. Left to rot and fall apart on the side of a road which is obsolete in the eyes of most travelers trying to get to their destination as fast as possible.
It may seem that I am getting towards the concept that the American dream is dead, and blah blah blah. But I assure you I am not. The point I am moving towards is what I believe really encapsulates the concept of America.
There is no universal concept to which we all adhere. There is not one single image which can really capture America. We are a nation which is founded on an adventurous bunch. We always have been about progress and growth, often times growing faster than our capacity to realize the ramifications for what we are doing. We have our marching as we cautiously look forward, and regrettably look back. We do this as individuals, and we do this as a nation. We have nostalgia for where we have been, and a blind hope in spite of the fear of the direction we are going.