Was America’s Interstate System the greatest public works project in history? Eisenhower himself, who signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act into effect in 1956, saw it as one of his most important achievements. Many historians agree. As construction advanced in every part of the country, the car became part of the American way of life, an accessible and even glamorous means of transportation that penetrated the fabric of culture, from music to fashion to advertising to design. But that has all changed. As the New York Times points out, Americans are buying fewer cars, driving less and getting fewer licenses as each year goes by. And with that, many aspects of car culture are dying out, like all the rest stops built in those early Interstate days for families to picnic and stretch their legs at. Photographer Ryann Ford became fascinated by the colorful roadside relics after moving to Texas and has been documenting them for the past five years. She joined R&K from her home in Austin.
Roads & Kingdoms: Did one specific drive you took plant the seed for this project?
Ryann Ford: When I moved from Southern California to Austin about eight years ago, I had to move all of my belongings, so I drove. I had always wanted to make that Route 66 trip, so I tried to drive on it as much as I could from LA to Texas, which is actually kind of tough because so many sections of the road are gone now and at some points you’ll be driving on the pavement or have to go off on the dirt. I hadn’t really thought of the project at that point, but I think I saw a couple of the rest stops and that planted the seed. Then I got to Austin and became a commercial photographer. I shot a lot for Texas Monthly magazine and they would send me on assignments all over Texas, so I really got to see everything from Dallas to Houston, and San Antonio to all the small towns. I drove on a lot of the backroads, and that’s when I think I really started noticing them. There were just these cute little pull-offs, some of them don’t even have restrooms, it’s just a covered picnic table nestled back in the trees or out on this gorgeous prairie. A lot of them looked like they were from the 50s and 60s and I just love mid-century architecture and vintage design. I thought they could make for a really cool photo project.