Summer nights are often windy and cold in the high desert. The howling wind blows all around you as you try to fall asleep, and in the vastness of the open range you can gaze high above in the night sky and observe the Milky Way in the distance. It is a reminder of just how small we are in the cosmos.
I first created my pop can pinhole cameras in 1998 while visiting my mother’s fifth grade class in southern California. A pinhole camera uses a tiny round hole – literally a pinhole – to act as a lens to create an image on a piece of film. Each of my cameras consists of two soda cans, with one sliding over the other to form a light-tight container. The pinhole is on one side of the can with the film curving around the opposite inside of the can. A paper flap slides over the hole to keep out the light until I am ready to make an image. I then hit the road to Chicago and used the cans to take photographs along the way.
Assigned by The New York Times Magazine to photograph Route 66 in May 2000, I continued on the project after the piece was published for another eleven years, documenting the road’s demise and the social conditions of those who were living out their lives on the lost highway. Contrary to the myth of Route 66 being a place of postcard fun and adventure, what I found on my trips across the ‘Mother Road’ was a road and a culture in distress.
Cuba, Missouri, is one of those Route 66 towns that no matter how many times I’ve been, it makes me want to spend even more time there. Recently, I spent two and a half weeks in the town on assignment, exploring Cuba and getting to know the friendly local folks, and of course creating photographs. Cuba has quite a bit to offer the roadtripper. From one of the top stays on the road, to an extensive collection of murals, a winery on top of a hill, with a fantastic view, tasty treats from a sweet retired lady, living her dream of owning a pie shop, to the delightful culinary experience that is set in an old Phillips Cottage style gas station right on old 66, and much more.
The journey begins in the Windy City of Chicago, and ends 2,400 miles away in the Golden State of California. Known as the Main Street of America, Route 66 crosses the grand open landscapes of the United States. Broken and disconnected in some stretches, Route 66 remains the most enigmatic route accessible to curious road travelers in search of the unique as they seek the freedom of the open road.
Gallup, New Mexico, with Route 66 running straight down the center of town, is one of those locations that still clings to an earlier period. The quirky town is home to Anasazi archaeological sites from around 300 A.D. and was founded in 1881 as a railhead for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. The fledgling area was named after David Gallup, a paymaster for the railroad.
Few towns along Route 66 represent the Mother Road more magically that Pontiac, Illinois. Located in the lovely county of Livingston, the small town paints the perfect picture of middle America with its idyllic parks and swinging bridges that cross the Vermilion River. The town was even honored to be the chosen location for the 1984 film, Grandview, USA.
Texas’ section of Route 66 is at times described as pancake-flat and featureless, but nothing could be further from the truth. There are 179 beautiful miles of the Mother Road that run across the Texas panhandle, offering road trippers moody ghost towns, vintage cafes and fuel stations and a myriad of amazing places to eat, stop and take in a deep breath of Route 66 history. And with all on offer, few towns along the route can compete with McLean, Texas, for its surreal, lonely atmosphere and ‘town lost in time’ vibe.