This series of photographs traces U.S. Highways, the original routes before the Interstate system was built. Highway 17 is an example. It runs just south of the Mason-Dixon Line in Winchester, Virginia to Punta Gordo on the Florida coast. The construction of I-95 contributed to the demise of many “mom-and-pop” businesses along this path when traffic was diverted to the super highway. Yet much of the vintage flavor of U.S. 17 is preserved because corporate logo gas stations and fast food chains did not wipe out the architecture and landscape that was typical of an earlier era of roadside Americana.
Since I grew up in the south, this rural iconography is extremely personal to me and signifies a vanishing way of life and mode of travel. The highways are a metaphor for the less hurried, more measured tempo of a time that is still with us, yet quaintly marginalized.
Locally owned country-style restaurants and roadside snack stands still reign on the highway. Tobacco, tomato and cotton fields run for miles and miles. Rustic barns and hand built houses persevere in an age of suburban sprawl and strip mall blight.
This series is a document of a land in transition. The English language on vernacular signs slowly gives way to the use of Spanish signifying a shifting population. Other billboards and advertisement displays are a pentimento of what came before. An ice cream parlor morphs into an insurance company which melts into a contemporary incarnation of a manicure shop called “Exotic Nails.”
The highway speaks to the heyday of the automobile and the nostalgia of the family vacation, but it is still a living, vibrant thoroughfare that is a vital mode of travel. It transports us forward to our destination and back in time to our childhood.