American Roadsides: Acclaimed Photographer Captures Rural Strangeness and Beauty
There was a time when driving across the American heartland meant encountering a steady parade of weird and wonderful roadside scenes—fire-and-brimstone billboards, idiosyncratic art installations, graveyards of rusty tractors, and other visions amid the cornfields.
Fast food chains and multilane highways take up a lot of that space nowadays.
But the recent work of the influential Texas-born, New England–based photographer Frank Armstrong suggests that the patriotic water towers, pink flamingos, and toilets used as lawn ornaments are still out there if you’re only willing to go looking.
Every summer, Armstrong does just that, hitting the road with his camper and camera (and sometimes an assistant) and driving the backroads of the U.S. at 35 mph.
The detailed and evocative compositions that result “capture the true variety of the American landscape and its ability to hold humor, wonder, nostalgia, sadness, specificity, and commonality all at once,” says Marjorie Rawle, Terrana assistant curator at the Fitchburg Art Museum in central Massachusetts. Through June 5, 2022, the museum is displaying “American Roadsides,” an exhibition of 41 Armstrong photos along with similar work by some of his former students at Clark University in Worcester.
Rawle told Frommer’s that Armstrong “gives us the perfect model for a road trip” in the vein of the slow travel movement.
“Frank's images show the real value, humor, and joy that you can find if you take it slow and just look around,” as Rawle puts it. “He likes to say that everything he photographs isn't at all hidden, but just out there for anyone to discover themselves if they take the time to drive slowly and open their eyes.”
Scroll on for some of Armstrong's eye-opening photos that could inspire you to take a long, leisurely drive of your own.
Pictured above: Coshocton, Ohio (2019)
"American Roadsides: Frank Armstrong's Photographic Legacy" is on display at Fitchburg Art Museum in Worcester County, Massachusetts (about 50 miles west of Boston) through June 5, 2022.