What is: Silos in the field, near Victoriaville, VA

What was: America was built on agriculture, from the colonists’ adoption of Native American methods to the early plantations exporting tobacco to the westward settlements across the land. Economic expansion and growth was rooted in farming.

“In 1862 Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act which granted Americans 160-acre plots of public land in the Western territory. Noted as being one of the most important pieces of American legislation to pass, this new act invited families to settle in the Great Plains and grow what we now call the breadbasket. By 1870, 50% of all Americans worked as agricultural laborers” (Source: https://www.wideopeneats.com/family-farm/)

The United States began as a largely rural nation, with most people living on farms or in small towns and villages. While the rural population continued to grow in the late 1800s, the urban population was growing more rapidly. Still, a majority of Americans lived in rural areas in 1900.

When the Great Depression hit over a million farmers moved to the cities to find work. This was followed by droughts and the dustbowl, declining exports and prices further causing hardships for family farms.

Today, the United States is the world’s largest exporter of agricultural products. Over two million farms are found across our nation and 98% of them operated by families – individuals, family partnerships or family corporations according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. The more than 2 million farms in the U.S. vary greatly in size and characteristics. For example, annual gross revenue can range from as little as $1,000 to more than $5 million. Family farms provide 88% of production. Most farms are small family farms, and they operate almost half of U.S. farm land, while generating 21% of production (Source USDA). Technology, consumer needs, and agricultural productivity has resulted in family farms growing larger and producing more than ever before.

What is: the fenced in pool in the middle of the motel parking lot. Vegetation growing through the concrete. Santa Rosa, New Mexico

What was: In the 1930’s, hotels began having pools built as marketing tools. The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida was one of the first and certainly one of the most historic in the United States to add a pool. As motels emerged to serve the American traveling public after WWII, pools became one of the added bonuses, to lure and attract customers.

By the 1950s and 1960s, the pinnacle of the motel industry in the United States, older mom-and-pop motor hotels added newer amenities such as swimming pools or color TV (a luxury in the 1960s). The main roads into major towns became a sea of orange or red neon proclaiming VACANCY (and later COLOR TV, air conditioning, or a swimming pool) seeking precious visibility on crowded highways.

In 1951, Memphis residential developer Kemmons Wilson, after being disillusioned with the wide variations of quality of motels during a family vacation, built the Holiday Inn chain – based on a standardized experience across the country that would include TV, air conditioning, a restaurant, and a pool.

What is: the Glenrio ghost town straddles the New Mexico-Texas border. This gas station, motel and cafe had a sign facing each direction…it was either the first in texas, or the last depending on the travels along Route 66. The old Route 66 roadbed runs through the Glenrio Historic District which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

What was: In 1901 the railway came through this area of Texas/New Mexico and the small town of Glenrio was born. The train arrived on the Texas side of the town. The post office was established on the New Mexico side. The Texas side was in a dry county. The gasoline taxes were cheaper on the New Mexico side. By 1905 the area was opened up to small farmers. By 1920, Glenrio had a hotel, a hardware store, and a land office, as well as several grocery stores, service stations, and cafes. By 1940 the population of the town was 30 people.

With the advent of Route 66 Glenrio became a popular stopping place for travelers and a “welcome station” station was built near the state line. One former resident recalls constant traffic during the daytime, with cars lined up five or six in a row waiting to get gas. Last in/first in was owned and built by Homer Ehresman, and his family ran the business between 1953 and 1976. With the advent of Interstate 40, bypassing the town, it became a ghost town.

What is: Family owned, with era restored rooms, 1940s phones that work, a garage attached to your room and amazing neon in the courtyard and signs, the Blue Swallow is a gorgeous and pleasant step back. Guests enjoy a reminder of what it was like to travel across the USA in the “good old days.” Still today, the experience includes sitting out with your neighbors under the warm glow of the neon, or sharing travel stories around a campfire. With hospitality provided by owners (formerly Nancy and Kevin) you will be welcomed like family.

What was: The Blue Swallow has been serving travelers along the Mother Road since 1940. Originally called The Blue Swallow Court it was open and operating with ten rooms. The motel has an L-shaped plan and consists of 12 units with a centrally-located office and manager’s residence. With its pink stucco walls decorated with shell designs and a stepped parapet, the façade reflects a modest use of the Southwest Vernacular style of architecture.

Lillian Redman and her husband bought the Blue Swallow in 1950 and successfully operated it until the 1990s, modernizing it with new, larger neon sign, and using the more up-to-date term, “Motel”. From the start, the Redmans put their customers first. When guests didn’t have enough money for a room, the Redmans accepted personal belongings in trade. She described the special and close connection she had with the Route 66 motorists who came in each night, “I end up traveling the highway in my heart with whoever stops here for the night.”

At the end of the 1960s, Interstate 40, took the place of the old Route 66. When I-40 highway came in, Mrs. Redman said, “I felt just like I had lost an old friend. ” Source and Visit them at Blueswallowmotel.com #motel #route66 #BlueSwallowmotel #neon #sign #travel #familybusiness

What is: the signature orange roof but the weather vane is gone and the building is overgrown by vines. Could be anywhere in the USA. This one is at the interchange of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah National Park.

What was: The weather vanes on Howard Johnson orange roof helped patrons immediately identify the Howard Johnson’s restaurants and motels. Howard Johnson’s was a pioneer of franchising and the nationwide roadside restaurant, replicating everything from its look to its menus. At its zenith, Howard Johnson’s operated more than 1,000 restaurants.

Howard Deering Johnson opened a drugstore and found the soda fountain was a money maker. He soon found a recipe for great ice cream and created his famous and popular 28 flavors of ice cream. That led to beach stands and ultimately to a restaurant serving clams. The second restaurant was franchised making it one of America’s first franchising agreements.

As America entered WW II there were 200 Howard Johnson’s restaurants. Due to the impact of the war, by 1944, there were only 12 Howard Johnson’s restaurants. Johnson bid for and won exclusive rights to serve drivers at service station turnoffs on the newly built turnpike systems in the 1940s and by 1954, there were 400 Howard Johnson’s restaurants in 32 states.

Howard Johnson’s went public in 1961. By 1975, Howard Johnson’s company had more than 1,000 restaurants in 42 states and Canada. By the late 1970s the decline began, partially because of the oil embargo of 1974,which resulted in reduced travel by car, as well as changing competitive marketplace.

What is: a scenic view of the Arkansas River at Fort Smith, Arkansas.

What was: 10,000 Native Americans died during removal or soon upon arrival in “Indian Territory.” Part of the Trail of Tears included this water route.  The territory would subsequently be opened to settlers and became the state of Oklahoma.

What is: an abandoned cotton gin between Clarksdale and Friars Point, MS.

What was: Founded in the 1830s and continuing to operate into the 20th century, the King and Anderson Plantation was an enormous spread of seventeen thousand acres just northwest of Clarksdale and reputed to be the largest family plantation in Mississippi. Originally, large plantations had their own private cotton gins. Over time, the increasing number of smaller farms, the emergence of sharecropping after the civil war and new technologies led to the rise of public gins.

By the early twentieth century, large, public facilities that not only ginned cotton but also sold seeds to cottonseed oil firms, populated nearly every town and county in the state’s cotton belt. In addition to the economic function, public gins served a social function. “Trips to the gin provided farmers living in the far reaches of Mississippi’s counties with breaks in the tedium and solitude of toiling on small, isolated farms. The same gins served black and white farmers, and gin operators made no efforts to serve whites before blacks. While waiting in line to gin their cotton, farmers of both races came together to discuss pests, weather patterns, and prices. As shared public spaces, therefore, gins offered brief respites from the stifling confines of Mississippi’s racial caste system.” Source: https://mississippiencyclopedia.org/entries/cotton-gins/.

What is: At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. On clear days views expand over a 100 miles…although air pollution now impacts that.

What Was: The Cherokee Indians, a branch of the Iroquois nation, trace their history in this region back 1000 years. Clingmans Dome was a sacred spot for the Cherokee where the Magic Lake was seen. The Magic Lake was a place to go when you were old and sick, if you had loved the earth and family, to be made well again. During the Indian Removal Period of the 1800s and the Trail of Tears, the mountains were a safe refuge and place to hide from the soldiers.

A photograph is static because it has stopped time. A painting or drawing is static because it encompasses time — John Berger, Writer and Critic

Painting and photography have always had an interesting relationship. In the earliest years of the camera, there was a debate about whether photography was an art form or merely a tool for recording the real world.  That debate centered around the fact that paintings are created by people and represent their expression of humanity.  Photography is from a machine, capturing real things devoid of that human and artistic expression.

Tom Wolff, the writer, once noted “It was the unspoken curse of the medium, which went: “Photography is not really creative.” Naturally no painter would be so gauche as to say publicly that photography was not an art form. Nevertheless, there was an unuttered axiom: “Painters create, photographers select.”   While many painters were critics of photography, at the same time, they were using photographs as the basis for creating their paintings.

On the other side of the story, when photography was invented in Paris in the 1830s, the artist Paul Delaroche stated that the invention of the camera meant painting was dead.   While painting has never died, it certainly has moved away from realism and created new ways to look at the world, such as impressionism, cubism, surrealism, abstraction and more.

Pictorialism: As a part of this debate, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the photographic movement of pictorialism emerged. Pictorialism placed beauty, tonality, and composition above creating an accurate visual record.  Proponents used a range of camera and darkroom techniques to produce images that allowed them to express their creativity, utilizing it to tell stories, replicate mythological or biblical scenes, and to produce dream-like landscapes. Through their creations, the movement strove to elevate photography to the same level as painting and have it recognized as such by galleries.

An example of pictorialism with its soft focus, “Spring Showers, the Coach”, by Alfred Stieglitz, 1899-1900

Photorealism: In the 1960s and 1970s the tables flipped with the painters moving towards photography.  The artistic movement photorealism — a genre of art that encompasses painting, drawing and other graphic media, in which an artist studies a photograph and then attempts to reproduce the image as realistically as possible in another medium.  It evolved from PopArt and as a counter to abstract expressionism.

John’s Diner with John’s Chevelle, 2007, John Baeder, oil on canvas, 30×48 inches.

Hand Coloring Along the way there was also handcoloring or Painted photography.  It began in the 19th century as a way to infuse life and reality into banal black-and-white images before the advent of color photography. The so-called golden age of hand-coloured photography occurred between 1900 and 1940 due to increased demand for hand-coloured landscape photographs.  When it’s used today, the process actually makes photographs less realistic, in the sense that the image drifts further and further away from the idea of the photograph as an objective document. The paint imparts tactility and subjectivity onto the fixed image, while altering notions of time and narrative.

Paint by Photographs:  I thought about all of this ebbing and flowing between painters and photography when I ran across “Paint Your Life” – an online service where you upload your photograph, choose a style (oil, charcoal, water color, etc) and an artist and end up with a painting of your photograph. It is especially promoted for portraits.   I then googled “turn photo into painting” only to find more than a dozen such services, some as free apps for your phone. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised since photoshop has filters that can change a photo into a painting like image…and sometimes you can just take a photo that looks like a painting (click images to see full screen and examine effects more fully).


It is interesting how these iterations of artistic categories and distinctions ebb and flow and merge over time.  It’s another story about how categories can be helpful but limiting. It’s also a story about how the arts and the various disciplines share and grow though their connections with each other.

Photography, not soft gutless painting, is best equipped to bore into the spirit of today – Edward Weston, Photographer

Excerpted from my monthly photo newsletter.  You can preview them and subscribe here.

Consider making photo books where the images speak and relate to each other,

holding hands to make a work that is greater in impact than the individual parts.” . Harvey Benge

Thoughts about Photo Books

Today, most photography is consumed on our phones and computers.  Shared on social media, scrolling and scrolling as the images go by, liking and commenting here and there.  Digital consumption of photography makes for broad distribution for the photographer and gives viewers lots to look at and enjoy.  However, viewing a photograph in print is a different experience.

One form of a print photograph is obviously the print – owned or viewed at an art gallery and on museum walls.  Another form of print is the photobook, more often owned. Like a print, the photobook is an object you can hold in your hand.  Unlike a single or couple of prints on a wall, photobooks include numerous images sequenced and laid out in a manner that brings meaning to the series as a whole. The composition of the photobook is not simply about the rectangular framing of a single image, rather it is about the series, the sequence and the overall narrative.

Walker Evans suggested that “he could create a sequence of pictures that could become in and of itself a work of art,” Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator of Photographs at MOMA has noted.  “It’s not just that each individual picture was great or actually described its purported subject. But without any knowledge of narrative or chronological structure, he was creating the photo book as a work of art. That laid the groundwork for the whole artistic potential of what the photo book became in the 20th century.”

Some photobooks are simply images. Some photobooks include text.  Others include materials that contextualize the pictures, such as correspondence, diary/journal entries, maps or illustrations.  Some photobooks include design features that enhance the experience and materiality of the book.  However, what is especially interesting across all of these formats is that a single photograph may tell a story, but a series of photographs brought together in a book offers a more complex and complete narrative. The cover design, image sequencing, accompanying text, and the pages themselves come together to play supporting roles. The books can rise to the level of art themselves, and art that that you can hold in your hand or leave on a coffee table, accessible to you and others to flip through and enjoy — sometimes seeing new things each time.

In fact, today the photobook is not just art, it is considered collectible art. Like all art, some collectors of photobooks base decisions on personal taste, knowledge or interest in an artist or specific subject matter.  Others choose to collect based on artists but also with a view to rarity and seeking vintage first editions.  Collectors are willing to pay steep prices for the world’s finest photography books, including: Ansel Adam’s Sierra Nevada; Walker Evan’s Let us now Praise Famous Men; Robert Frank’s The Americans; and, Henri Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment. For a primer on factors for consideration when collecting photobooks, check out this article.

The photobook has also become a way for photographers to disseminate their work to a broader audience than a single print can reach, while also serving as a way to tell a longer-form story about a project they have been working on.

If you want to explore photobooks by photographers of our time, check out: Radius Books, ApertureSteidlPhaidon, and Dewi Lewis Publishing. For reviews of some recent photobooks and a further understanding of the form, function and overall understanding check out The Conscientious Photography Magazine.

The more I study photography, the more it seems clear — photobooks are the optimal format. 

Portable, shareable, permanent.

An intimate experience you can loan to your friends. And, unlike digital, print lasts. — Andy Adams, online Flak Photo Community 

Behind the Scenes: Making a Book
A couple months ago a reviewer of my Roadside America portfolio of 15 images suggested I take those 15 images back up to roughly 40 images — the size of a book.  It would prove to be a good experience in terms of editing and sequencing and offering a new way to look at the photographs, as a whole, as well as individually.  Out of that came new ways to see the different ways the images connect with each other.

While Robert Frank’s 84 page book, The Americans, was a result of editing and sequencing from 27,000 photographs, my little project edited just a thousand images down to about 100 and from that, a book of 51 images.

The Process: At first, I went back to the raw material to see what I thought might build upon the portfolio of 15 images.  As I identified those photographs, I made 4’’x 6’’ prints and then laid them out, mixing and matching sequences (see photo above).  As I played with which images and sequences might work, I gradually settled in on a “master narrative” or what you might call the topics and chapters/sections of the book.  Once that was settled (although the sequence of the chapters changed another couple times), I then reorganized photos and choices of photos in each section. I would often let the changes sit for a few days in order to digest the individual image placements, as well as the overall flow of the the sections and story. Of course, that would inevitably lead to more changes of both the images and the sequencing.  I would go back and add, delete, rearrange the images all over again. Several months of this went by and I finally got to the point where I was no longer shuffling images around. The story was complete and images worked separately and together to do what I wanted.

Here’s a tip about all that editing and sequencing, in case you get the book (details below).  The images are arranged as if you are on a road trip, coming into and going out of a town.  Each “chapter” is about key elements in any community – the economy, transportation & distribution, travel, commerce, social and home.

The next steps were easier.  I organized the photo files on the computer in the order I had settled on (photo below) and uploaded them to Blurb – an online self-publishing service that also includes a store front.  I printed a couple proofs to see the book in reality.  I made some additional changes to end up with what you can see today.

While Blurb is not the stature of the publishers I mentioned above, and there is no curator writing an introduction/essay or any assistance for wonderful design or typography, and it is mass produced, but it is nice to complete the project and have a book to hold in your hands and flip through.  A good experience and a fun first effort.

Preview or purchase at Blurb

Roadside America, In Black and White Infrared

If you are interested in previewing and/or purchasing the Roadside America book, you can visit Blurb.  It is also available as an instant pdf download if you would prefer that.

Limited Edition of the Book: I am also printing a limited edition run of 15 signed copies of the book with a premium archival paper.  You can email me if you are interested in that.

Additional Roadside America photographs are available on the website: https://binhammerphotographs.com/galleries

Prints from the Book: The images in this book are available as limited edition prints by emailing me directly.  They are not all on the website.