15 Apr 5 Faves: Tim O’Brien’s Roadside Pic(k)s
By Tim O’Brien
My latest book, Tim O’Brien’s Roadside Pics & Picks – The Huge, The High, The Half Buried, came out earlier this year and represented years of my favorite backroad and blue-line highway travel photography. As an observational-style photographer, I have always loved the absurdity of what we find along the motorways of America.
I especially appreciate how one reviewer described this tome. “This beautiful book is an outrageously offbeat exhibition of Tim’s favorite roadside photos. In four chapters with 450 colorful photos, he features Roadside Giants (The Huge), Things-on-a-Pole (The High), Half-Buried cars, boats and trucks, and Roadside Art Parks of assemblage sculptures.”
Within these photos, I pay homage to the real stars of this exhibition: the creators whose visions were fulfilled without the baggage of cultural influence. My photos are merely vessels to pass along those artistic visions.
While we lovers of Americana have no issues calling it art, the consensus is to question our judgment. I like how the eccentric Stanley Marsh 3, creator of Cadillac Ranch, defined art: “Art is a legalized form of insanity, and I do it very well.”
As I say in the book, now available on Amazon, “If I totally lost you and you can’t enjoy either the images or the subject matter, at least shake your head in confusion and ask the question I hear all the time: Why?
YES, why indeed.”
1: Roadside Giants
The issue I had picking my favorite photo in the Roadside Giants chapter was similar to choosing which of my daughters I love most. Muffler Men all come from the same family, but each has its own personality. All pink elephants are a shade of pink, but each has a different smile if you look closely, and all giant donuts resting high atop donut shops in Southern California are round but with different text. However, the winner in this category is the Size 410 boot, outside the behemoth L.L. Bean store in Freeport, Maine. This 16-foot-tall, rubber-soled boot makes all who wander, stop, and wonder as they enter the store.
In the Things-on-a-Pole chapter, I feature a variety of items mounted on poles of all heights. Pole toppers include the world’s largest catsup bottle, the world’s largest soda pop bottle, a full-size tractor-trailer truck, cars, trucks, airplanes, and ice cream cones. My favorite is the Hand Car Wash sign in Studio City, California. Where else can you find four fingers holding onto a yellow sponge supporting a red and white Corvette? Yep, the uniqueness caught my attention, as it did city officials when it was installed without a permit. Two years later, the owners were allowed to keep the sign if they moved farther from the road and reduced overall height by six feet.
Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, initially sparked my interest in planted vehicles. In the Half-Buried chapter, I feature all of the well-known as well as the more obscure locations that feature entrenched funky, rusty, and always colorful vehicles. My favorite is in Goldfield, Nevada. The International Car Forest of the Last Church is a desert delight and has the most buried vehicles and the best name of them all. More than 40 cars, buses, and trucks are planted on 80 acres, with most being adorned with original artwork, creating an exciting dash of color against the brown desert and scruffy Joshua Trees. I’m not talking basic graffiti here. Some of the art spectacular, created on what has to be the world’s most unique palette.
4: Roadside Art Parks
For the highly eclectic Roadside Art Parks chapter, I explored the creative world of several outsider artists who use upcycled material to create assemblage sculptures. My favorite was the art assembled by the creative souls living in East Jesus, California. Located outside Niland, a sign at the conclave states that it is a “refuge for artists….and wandering geniuses.” I felt right at home, perusing the endless displays of things made out of things. A wall of TVs, bottles in cement, art cars, and hidden little shrines are all beautiful and creative in their own right. East Jesus is slang meaning the middle of nowhere and, in this case, has no religious connotation.
5: My Favorite
And if I had to pick My Favorite of all my pics, it would have to be the 50-foot tall Dignity giantess, found in the Lewis & Clark rest area along I-90 in Chamberlain, South Dakota. The magnificent tribute to the Native American woman is also the most beautiful, by traditional (art) standards, of any roadside photo I have ever taken. Created in stainless steel by Black Hills artist Dale Lamphere, this piece perfectly fits on this high bluff of land overlooking the Missouri River.
Editor’s Note: Tim is giving SCA members a $5 discount on the book, which can be ordered direct from him at firstname.lastname@example.org for $29.99 (free shipping included) using Paypal. Tim can autograph and add a personal message inside the book.