“Rest Stop” is an ongoing project that I first began in December 2009. This project consists of photographs of roadside rest areas in California, New York, Arizona, New Jersey, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Utah and New Mexico. In systematically documenting rest stops across the United States, just prior to their closure due to state budget cuts, I aim to document an instance of individuality within a world that is headed for homogenization. My photographs strive to highlight the importance of distinctiveness and authenticity and the trend within society to choose the cost effective route at the peril of character as is evidenced by the rapid extinction of architecturally unique rest stops in the United States.
This project originated from my childhood memories at rest stops in the United States. I treasured my experiences at rest stops due to not only the relief they provided but more so because of the individual charm of each rest stop. Unfortunately, in the past two years states including but not limited to Virginia, Georgia, California, Maryland, Arizona, Louisiana, New Hampshire and Maine have announced or already commenced the closing of rest stops to be replaced by commercialized service stations consisting of identical architecture, identical food options and identical restrooms.
From the onset of this project I have had the aim of photographing every single rest area in the United States in hopes of creating a complete archive of these architecturally and culturally significant structures before they are rendered completely extinct. Although there are over 2,000 rest areas in the United States and at this juncture I have photographed a mere fifty-two, I am undaunted. The funding garnered through this site will enable me to photograph as many as 100 additional rest areas and perhaps would additionally give me the ability to garner more funding for this project, thus pushing me closer to my eventual goal.
The photographic documentation of roadside rest areas that this project yields are important to me personally but I believe even more so important for mankind. The individuality of the architecture of each rest stop across the United States was intended from their beginnings and has been maintained by specific guidelines set forth by the federal government since their emergence in the 1960s. Rest areas emerged soon after the injection of the Interstate Highway system to provide drivers with services that were otherwise completely unavailable due to the fact that the Interstate ran not through towns but through empty land. When the development of rest areas first began the design aesthetics employed in their construction intended to embody “unique and colorful expressions of regional flavor”(1) and additionally “functioned to create a context of place within the Interstate System; achieved through the implementation of unique and whimsical design elements”(2) . Therefore, rest areas functioned as much more than simple pit stops where one can use a clean bathroom. Rest stops aimed to relieve the bladders of drivers but additionally provide drivers a respite from the monotony of the highway. Therefore, these structures symbolize far more than what appears at first glance. They serve as a record of human ingenuity and creativity in a world that is slowly being drained of all distinctive character and individuality. These photographs will preserve this instance of originality and imagination in the United States, just prior to its disappearance.
My intentions when photographing rest stops are multi fold. First, I wish to memorialize my childhood memories. This intention is, although personally important, largely irrelevant to the viewer. In these images I do not aim to transmit the notion of warm childhood memories. Rather, I seek to create a documented collection of this unique aspect of Americana, before it no longer exists. These images embody a more objective, barren point of view conveyed by the absence of human beings, strict geometric compositions and attention to symmetry. This can be attributed to the ultimate goal of this project serving as an archive for rest stops across the United States as culturally and architecturally significant structures. Therefore, I am personally attached to this project as an act of memorialization. However, my far more significant intention when photographing rest stops is to document them, in their wonderful individuality and complete lack of private or commercial establishments, before they become extinct.
Once "Rest Stop" garners enough funding, I plan to drive on Interstate and State roads across the Southern United States and systematically photograph each rest area I come across using a large format 4x5 camera. Thus far I have not been able to tackle any of the Southern States and so I hope that through this site I will finally be able to.
My work references many photographers who have worked to methodically document architectural structures and spaces. Historically this includes references to Ed Rucha’s “Twentysix Gasoline Stations” and Bernd and Hilla Becher’s “Water Towers”. Contemporary references contained within this body of work include Frank Breuer’s “Logos Warehouses Containers”, Robert Voit’s “New Trees” and Candida Hofer’s “Architecture of Absence”.
Joanna Dowling, "Home Page," Rest Area History, http://www.restareahistory.org (accessed December 8, 2009).
2 Joanna Dowling, "Home Page," Rest Area History, http://www.restareahistory.org (accessed December 8, 2009).