Streets, Roads, Highways and Byways

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

My father taught me to drive manual transmission when I was a boy. Instantly it gave me the ability to break free of my neighborhood once and for all. I have been on the go since, both physically and metaphorically. I drove away and have trod the “streets, roads, highways and byways” of the world, continuously.

When you look at any map, the lines that crisscross appear featureless, anonymous and generic. However the roads those markings represent are biographical. They absorb the personality of the region or culture. They can also be just a frame of mind.

Roads constitute the largest man-made artifact on earth. Of course, they can be long or “less taken”, thruway or path. They assume different forms in different seasons or look different, in different directions.

Civilizations migrated via roads, conquering armies march on roads, discoveries were facilitated by roads. Many have vanished but remain a thing of myth and legend: Silk Road, Appian Way, Chisholm Trail, Lover’s Lane, Easy Street, and so on.

Ultimately they make for great photographs.


Route 66


Route 66, the Mother Road, originally ran from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica California. It has been the subject of many books, stories and movies. As a kid I watched a television show that made the theme song famous.

If you ever plan to motor west,
Travel my way, take the highway that is best.
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six.
-Nat King Cole

Too many photographers have tried to take pictures of it's legend and the kitsch that has grown up in it's wake. Most attempts are just pedestrian (no pun intended) but some are sublime.

My inspiration was from a photograph by one of my favorite photographers,

Ernst Haas, which he took in 1969. He surprised me and turned urban/suburban sprawl into art. I dreamed of finding a stretch of highway similar to his cluttered, chaotic image to make my own assessment.

I scouted for hours, then set up my 300mm telephoto in the middle of the road and waited for the light. I was there for so long, that a car full of thugs drove up and threatened me because they thought I was spying on their whore house, which was about a quarter mile down the road. I never noticed the activity until they mentioned it.

Streets


Streets are a different subject altogether. Usually paved, they are urban, being thoroughfares through villages, towns or cities. There may be sidewalks and people living on one or both sides. Every street I have photographed is a short story in my visual lexicon; some famous, some off the beaten path. You find extraordinary things on ordinary streets: lights, obscure shadows, random architecture, homelessness, patriotic parades, weathered cobblestones, lost pedestrians, wild-eyed gypsies women, cars and crime. The famous ones reflect a certain economic paradigm: Rodeo Drive, Wall Street, Bond Street, et al.

Champs-Élysées

Paris, France

Nowhere is there a street more representative of its city than the Champs-Élysées. It is perhaps the most famous promenade in the world. It is hard to express it’s beauty. Parisians celebrate everything there.

My dream assignment was to shoot a book on “The City of Light”. As often happened in Paris, for hours, I had my tripod set up on the center median desperately waiting for the lights to go on. Traffic whizzed by me on both sides. Unfortunately my presence attracted a lot of attention. Every tourist that spotted me stood directly in front of my camera to try and get the same shot.

Sunset Boulevard

Los Angeles, California

“The City of Angels” was founded right where Sunset Boulevard begins. For thirty years, I have made it my goal to photograph every aspect of the famous street that leads to the sea. For every assignment in southern

California, I try to set aside some time to drive, walk and spend time on the street. Each trip is like putting a little of the project in the bank and watching the account generate interest over time. Every deposit is unique. The long street wends through so many divergent neighborhoods: rich, poor, ethnic, picturesque, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Pacific Palisades, movie stars, etc.

LA is about movies and cars. Angelenos take their streets very seriously. Over the years I have been hassled by cops, road rage, motorcycle gangs, football coaches and beach bums, all because Sunset Strip has been the subject and verb of my photography, i.e. street photography...

Street Photography


Street photos are small, quixotic segments of a larger urban landscape. They are bits of a city – metaphors. You are developing small narratives with little beginning or end. Equipment is usually minimal, rather it is the heart behind the camera that makes compelling street photographs. Traditionally we have seen examples by Robert Frank, Eugene Atget and Andre Kertesz but a new wave is represented by Alex Webb, Martin Parr and Constantine Manos who have changed it forever.

I have walked nearly every inch of the civilized world in pursuit of my street photography. It requires constant diligence and immense quantities of shoe leather. Even though the world’s tableau is constantly changing, it takes skill, dexterity and an open eye and mind to eke out a decent street photograph.

Ginza

Tokyo, Japan

For many years I traveled to Japan annually, for a variety of advertising, corporate and editorial assignments. Over time I spanned the length and breadth of the island nation. I immersed myself in the culture because, diverged from my own, it made it easier to fathom the social entities I was documenting. I fell in love with almost everything and made some lifelong friends.


But the Ginza has drawn me back like a magnet. I shopped in the department stores, ate at the cafes and did a lot of street shooting between sun and rain. There was a large gap since the last time I visited. Returning

to my old haunts was invigorating because much had changed. In an effort to reshoot the most neon-lit street in the world, I got arrested for being on a highway overpass. I guess, “you can’t go home again.”

Highways


Highways are a more recent feature on road maps. They have provided the average citizen opportunity to travel much farther for business and pleasure. A product of American car culture: Detroit built cars to fill the highways and the interstate system mobilized those who could afford it.

The road trip is an American staple. “Motoring” became a noun. Walt Whitman coined the phrase “the open road”. Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road defined the Beat generation as well as glamorized a new mobile lifestyle.

Life is a highway
I wanna ride it all night long
If you’re going my way
I’m going to drive it all night long
-Tom Cochrane

US1

Florida

For the adventure of a lifetime, I had thought to do a road trip down through the Florida Keys, stopping along the way to make pictures. Life is lived very differently along an archipelago of islands, connected by a highway. Each community was mysterious and had its own demimonde.

We drove south from Miami, stopping when I saw something. We backtracked when I thought there was more than met the eye. Through Marathon, Key Largo, made famous by the movie, Pigeon Key, Plantation Key, Islamorada, we made pilgrimages into the interior settlements, swamps and fishing villages.

I even rented a single engine plane to fly over Seven Mile Bridge, so I could take some aerials. Ultimately I spent time in Key West (made a household name by Ernest Hemingway), which is the end of the line. By the time people venture that far, they are altered. They have wandered until they cannot go any more. A lot of weird people live at the ends of the earth.

Byways


Tin Pan Alley
Shot in Lisbon, Portugal
Acorn street
Skid Row


Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.
-John Muir


Alleys, paths, lanes and other byways are narrow, often reserved for pedestrians. They meander between buildings, through gardens or behind-the-scenes. The more labyrinthine, the more full of dread and whimsy. In the country, they are used by livestock, bicycles and those looking for shortcuts. While in the city, nefarious interactions were conducted side by side with me and my buddies playing football and baseball in the appropriate season.





Once I fell on cobblestones in sacred cowsh*t trying to make my way to the Ganges River in Varanasi, India. The passageway was so narrow and serpentine, I would never have found my way if not for the tuk-tuk driver who was leading the charge. Despite the accident, the photography was spectacular.


7 comments:

Unknown June 8, 2017 at 7:34 AM  

love the project!!!!

Kept Light June 8, 2017 at 11:22 AM  

Very nice collection indeed Lou. I drove on Rt 66 in 1969 as I traveled from Michigan to Los Angeles and have very fond and interesting memories. The same year I drove on US 1 from LA to SF. But both memories are now close to dreams.

Too bad we could not do the Istanbul street photography workshop earlier, we missed the timing by probably one year. Maybe one day!

Best,

Cemal

Mike Radelet,  June 10, 2017 at 5:59 AM  

Makes me want to buy a motorcycle and a camera, load up with Dinty Moore Beef Stew, and follow the headlight.

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blog (blŏg, bläg) n. 1. short for Weblog 2. online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer 3. diary that is posted on the Internet 4. an experiment to verbalize my observations about the status of photography. It will be eclectic & deal with philosophy & practice of this universal art form. It will strive for periodic commentary about issues many photographers face, like ownership and the economy. It will also talk about pictures and what makes good ones and how to get them. No hardware. No software. No recycled clichés. No whining.