Since the 1980s saw the prevalence of color photography, the American road trip has become a rite of passage for many emerging photographers. “Neighbour State” explores the American landscape with the curiosity of a young Canadian perspective. Growth and decay are discovered living side by side across a nation dotted with tourist attractions. Perhaps it is the nature of transience, which allows the lines between the banal and the wondrous to blur and dissipate. — Photographer Nathan Cyprys
When did you start this series, and what compelled you?
I started shooting “Neighbour State” in the summer of 2012 when I decided to drive from Toronto to Los Angeles with my girlfriend. She was well traveled, whereas my only real travel experience at the time was on a weekend trip once to New York City. My understanding of America was limited to what I had taken from the media, heard from friends and from photos I had seen throughout art school.
Images from the New Topographics movement particularly inspired me. I loved the depressing beauty and often awe-inspiring, large-format landscapes of Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld taken throughout their many road trips across the United States. The notion of the road trip held this space in my mind as a rite of passage for a young photographer. So I jumped on the opportunity when it presented itself with my 4×5 camera in tow.
Avoiding as many interstates as possible, we drove along back roads and highways that passed through small towns between cities and tourist destinations. It was these unexpected places that I often found the most beautiful scenes, even in their quiet decay. The experience felt like a pilgrimage, one where I came to better understand the United States through my Canadian perspective. In 2013 we hit the road once again, traveling to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, with many stops along the way.
What, would you say, is a feeling or a concept you would want viewers of “Neighbour State” to come away with?
I would love if it inspired more exploration nearby or distant to where a viewer might live. I feel like while making this work I’m constantly trying to balance sadness, beauty and humor. There are times when these concepts work together more than others — either as a single image or as a pairing of several. I enjoy when the images have people feeling as if they’re traveling with me, or if the viewer feels a desire to go to a certain place, town, city or state.
How you would define living life off the grid?
To me, living life off the grid means living without dependence on nuclear energy or running tap water; it means surviving from only your own resources and the land that surrounds you. By my definition, I’ve never lived off the grid. I do enjoy these temporary breaks, though, leaving behind technology and living out of a car and tent for several weeks so that I can experience remote and empty places that are far from home. The long drives and stretches of southern U.S. highways can often be meditative.