Ryann Ford: The Last Stop
Photographer Ryann Ford was simply taking the scenic Route 66 road trip in 2007 while moving to Austin when her next series, The Last Stop, presented itself. All long the route she noticed the array of humble and quirky rest stops that reflected a host of architectural expressions – mock adobe dwellings in New Mexico, Depression-era stone houses in Arizona, faux oil rigs in Texas. For close to seven years, Ryan captured over 150 rest stops and pondered the future of these structures. Fortunately, Powerhouse has just released the rich monograph, The Last Stop, which captures their moment in time, as a number of these rest stops have already disappeared. On Thursday, June 23, 2016, Ryann will have a book signing at Mockingbird Domestics in Austin, TX.
Raised in a Southern California mountain town so small it didn’t even have a stoplight; Ryann Ford had the freedom to explore and observe from a young age. At age 12, she took her first photo using her father’s old Pentax Spotmatic from Vietnam; at age 18 she enrolled at the renowned Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Photography. Living in Los Angeles, Ford began to focus her creative work in two areas: artifacts of the abandoned American desert, and the fading landscape of California’s Salton Sea. Her work has been been featured in such publications as the New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and NPR. Ford is currently a commercial photographer who regularly shoots for such clients as Better Homes and Gardens, The New York Times, and Texas Monthly. Her meticulously composed architectural and interior photography has become an industry favorite, and it is this style—clean and thoughtful—that continues to inform her fine art today.
The Last Stop
It was the summer of 2007 when I made the move from Southern California to Austin, Texas. Not long after I arrived, I started to accept photography assignments, some of which took me all over Texas. On the way to a shoot I usually would be in a hurry and took the interstates, but on the way home, after the stress retreated, I drove the back roads and lesser-traveled highways for a change of scenery.
It was sometime in my first two years in Texas that I started noticing rest stops. I glimpsed one and thought, “That would be a great photo.” I was drawn to the minimalist scene—a modest little structure set out on a beautiful landscape—and the mid-century architecture.
I remember getting home from an assignment one day, sitting down at my computer to start retouching, and being distracted by the thought of photographing the vintage rest stops I had just seen.
Procrastinating on my retouching work, I Googled to see if anyone already had photographed rest stops and also to see what other stops out there looked like. Instead, I was met with news article after news article detailing the demise of rest stops all over the country. That was during the worst of the recession, and states were cutting expenses wherever they could. Highway rest stops were the first to go. Some were just closed temporarily but others were demolished. I scrolled to an article about Texas, clicked the link, and saw a photo of a rest stop whose roofline took the shape of longhorns. A huge Texas flag was painted down the walls of the structure. It was an amazing example of Americana. To my horror, the article detailed how the rest stop was “a breeding ground for crime” and was slated for demolition. I was in disbelief.
That next weekend I jumped in the car and made the four-hour drive to Flower Mound, near Fort Worth. The rest stop was even more kitschy in person. I got a great shot and headed home. A few weeks later I was back in the area on assignment, and sure enough, it was gone. A big orange barricade blocked the entrance ramp, the concrete structures had been knocked down and hauled away, and the ground where they stood for decades was smoothed over as if they had never existed. I immediately felt an urgency to shoot as many rest stops as I could before they all were gone forever. My hope is that this book cultivates an interest in the often-overlooked beauty and significance of rest stops in the American travel experience.
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