The road trip is an integral part of American culture. We, unlike any other nation, embrace our cars as a symbol of personal freedom. Made possible by the triumph of our interstate highway system, the road trip is simply an extension of our wandering spirit. Instead of riding off into the sunset on horse back, we toss a few backpacks into our trusty metal steed, and head off wherever the road will take us.
Documenting our road trips is also an American tradition. Ever since the days of Route 66, we’ve loved to record the hidden gems that can only be appreciated when seen first hand, with windblown hair and a trucker’s sunburn. But one could argue that with today’s increased urban sprawl, it’s harder than ever to find those wide open spaces. In 2010, American artist Ellen Jantzen set out to rediscover America through the eyes of the road trip, and what she found is far from ordinary.
During the spring of that year Jantzen and her husband set out on a 6,000 mile road trip from Missouri to California and back again. Like most of us, she wanted to capture the sights along the way. Armed only with a point and shoot camera, and traveling at 70 mph, the shots often emerged fuzzy and distorted. But every once in a while, she able to anticipate and shoot before she really saw, and was often surprised by the captured image.
“The freeways/Interstates transverse spectacular scenery, much of it void of towns and car dealerships,” writes Jantzen on her website. There are farmhouses and barns, often at quite a distance and cows, but mostly open, native America to be glimpsed between the billboards announcing the next exit’s offerings.”
And as Jantzen’s camera lens discovered, that America is changing, albeit slowly. As her essay shows, renewable energy, especially in the form of wind farms, is slowly creeping across the Heartland. As this review suggests, Jantzen’s images are both haunting and encouraging, demonstrating that America the beautiful still exists, although our definition of that beauty is constantly changing.