The sign said it all, 13 miles until I would exit US 49 and begin another highway exploration through the back roads of Mississippi. I always feel a bit of excitement as I leave the main highway that got me there and the run begins. A run, as I call it, is the driving, exploring and photographing along a planned route of highways and back roads. And besides a good road map, extra camera batteries and memory cards, the most important item I carry during a run is my notebook. And a few extra pens.
This is where I keep track of every state, town and county that I travel through during the run. It is also the place I mark down the locations of my image captures, giving me a written diary of where I went, what I shot and how I got there. I also jot down reminders to myself, notes about places I’d like to come back to and anything else I don’t want to forget. For both my style of photography and record keeping, this kind of note-taking is absolutely required. If only I had been this disciplined during my high school and college days.
I started a new series of runs through the southern landscape during the spring, but I was not finding what I was searching for. Not because of a lack of talent or inspiration, it was really about the choices concerning the routes I had taken. I did not put myself in those areas that would have the roadside environments I so desperately sought. However, towards the start of the summer, specifically, on Monday, June 16th, I finally found myself in a place that I could make a real run through. I was going to be returning to Birmingham from a family reunion in Long Beach, Ms, which is a fairly cut and dry trip if taking the interstate. But I don’t find a whole lot to stop and photograph going 75mph. So I mapped out a nice run along the back roads, going through some territory I had never been through, and the exit at Wiggins was the starting point.
As I rolled through the warm and humid Mississippi landscape, I began to realize I was in the midst of a good run. I felt as if some of my earlier frustrations had began to lift and did not feel like I was pushing or forcing myself to find images. The only thing I had to do was pay attention, stop the car and do what comes naturally with my camera in hand. But there is a little more to it..
My roadside environments are obviously found while searching the highways and back roads, and some might even call my work documentary style, but that is a long way from the truth. My work does not come from the “anytime and anyplace” snapshot mindset, it’s not coincidence or a random event. My imagery is about a very precise intersection of time and place, capturing a unique environment through both light and composition.
I have had an eye for roadside imagery since my time at the University of Montevallo, but it was not such a dedicated part of my portfolio like it is now. I have often made the comment that all of us in the UM art department at that time were influenced in some way by the photographs on the front and back of REM’s “Murmur” album. The landscape engulfed by kudzu was something we walked by or drove through everyday, it did not exist “somewhere else”, it was right in our backyard. And the experience from that time period in my life is something I still carry with me to this day. Although most of my work recently has been done along the back roads of Illinois, my “southerness” still manages to show through in the way I interpret the scenes. And that is something I am very proud of and I hope will never change.
Until next time…