A photographer spent 7 years exploring the barren expanse of America's highways and returned with stark photos documenting the difficult realities of life in the US

Courtesy of Josh Dudley GreerAmerica is a strange, beautiful place.
  • Atlanta, Georgia-based photographer Joshua Dudley Greer has spent the last seven years taking road trips across America and photographing along the 46,876-mile-long Interstate Highway System.
  • Greer felt that exploring the Interstate Highway System, which he calls “a physical manifestation of our national character,” would give him the best understanding of what America is today. Along the way, he saw and captured many strange, beautiful moments that he calls “minor miracles.”
  • Greer has collected his years of work road tripping and photographing America’s highways into “Somewhere Along the Line,” to be published early next year. He’s running a Kickstarter where people can pre-order the book until November 12.

Ever since the US began constructing the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s, the road has become a central part of America’s myth of itself, and its reality.

In large part, the 46,876 miles of superhighways have dictated the development of America’s culture and economy of suburbs, malls, and corporate franchises. The uniformity of the road system has encouraged the uniformity of American life. Stop off any exit along Interstate 95 or Interstate 80 and you are likely to find a similar collection of strip malls, diners, gas stations, and fast food joints. It’s why most Americans just keep driving.

Atlanta, Georgia-based photographer Joshua Dudley Greer had a different idea. Instead of jetting down the road, Greer drove along America’s highways at a crawl and tried to photograph exceptions to the sameness such as, in his words, “a man cooking ribs at a truck stop for eighteen hours or a billboard asking for someone to donate a kidney.”

For seven years and over 100,000 miles of driving, Greer tried to capture the strange, mysterious, and beautiful moments he found along the Interstate Highway System, in the hopes that it might help him understand what America is today.

“I think the big highways can be seen as a physical manifestation of our national character – economically, politically, socially, and environmentally,” Greer told Business Insider. “We’re at a point where our infrastructure is long past its shelf life and is crumbling all around us and yet we continue to either band-aid the problem or look the other way.”

A book of Greer’s near-decade-long exploration of America’s highways, titled “Somewhere Along the Line,” will be published by German publisher Kehrer Verlag early next year.

Greer recently launched a Kickstarter to take preorders of the book, which will run until November 12. You can check it out here and see some of his photos below.

The US began construction of the Interstate Highway System in 1956 under President Dwight Eisenhower.


Federal Highway Administration

While numerous highways predated the system, the IHS was the first standardised system of superhighways in the country.


Federal Highway Administration

Ever since, the Interstate Highway System has had a huge impact on America’s culture and development. It set in stone that the car was the center of America’s culture and economy.

Greer began taking road trips along the Interstate Highway System at the age of 19. He told Business Insider that he has spent half his life on such trips.

Greer said he feels similar to journalist Robert Samuelson, who said “To understand America, you must understand highways.”

The IHS drastically changed day-to-day life in America. Prior, Americans travelled at slower speeds along roads lined with businesses and architecture specifically tailored to the region and town.


University of Vermont Landscape Change Program

After the IHS was built, most of these once vital towns died. Development moved to highway exits and interchanges where land was scarce and expensive.


University of Vermont Landscape Change Program

The only ones who could afford to open and sustain businesses were the wealthy big businesses. Hence the uniformity of gas stations and fast-food joints.


University of Vermont Landscape Change Program

“Sameness is efficiency and comfort and safety,” said Greer. “But there are still unique parts of our landscape and culture that defy that kind of steamrolling and … that’s what I was looking for — some kind of exception to the rule.”

The building of interstate highways largely reorganized American culture around the roads, vehicles, and the commuting lifestyle.


University of Vermont Landscape Change Program

Many historians blame a loss of distinct regional cultures and history in America on the IHS. Highway historian William Kaszynski called it “the blanding of America.”


University of Vermont Landscape Change Program

But Greer tried to see past the “blanding” to the moments of life and to the feeling of places you are supposed to blow past on highways.

As he travelled along the highways, he frequently happened upon what he calls, “minor miracles”: moments that breakdown the sameness and uniformity.

Most Americans miss these moments, Greer said, because they view freeways, interstates, and turnpikes as “functional spaces, not aesthetic ones.”

Most people just drive by, as quickly as possible.

“I’ve found that if I lingered long enough and looked closely enough, there were moments of genuine life taking place on a human scale,” Greer said.

Highways had a more negative effect in cities, where entire neighbourhoods were destroyed, and others became physically and economically isolated.


University of Vermont Landscape Change Program

The road trip has a long tradition in American photography, film, and literature, a genre that Greer calls “seductive and intimidating.” In many ways, it’s at the core of America’s myth of itself.

Greer said America is “in love with the myth of what it used to be.”

The reality of life in America, whether in the 1950s or today, has always been far harsher for most people, Greer said.

Greer deliberately avoided back roads and scenic highways. He didn’t want to present a quaint, picturesque, nostalgic view of America.

“I felt that the Interstate Highway System would show me what America looks like today and not some kind of nostalgic view of what it used to be,” said Greer.

“Sometimes it was funny, other times it was heartbreaking, but most of all it was inspirational,” Greer said.

Once, he found a Walmart parking lot filled with RVs.

Another time, he found a billboard from a person asking for a kidney donation.

At times, he didn’t even know what he was looking at.

There were indications to America’s future, like these electric car charging stations. A new kind of American sameness.

Though the landscapes changed, Greer largely found himself “isolated and disconnected” no matter where he went. Because roads are not designed to be social, Greer said, he had to work at forming connections.

“There have certainly been times, like watching the solar eclipse at a truck stop in Kentucky, where I’ve felt deeply connected to fellow travellers, but by and large it’s a big, empty country and that can feel lonely,” Greer said.

Greer’s photographs act as a document showing what America is like today — not what people wish it was.

Check out Greer’s Kickstarter for the project here»

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