The open roads of America have given artists, writers and photographers inspiration for hundreds of years. For some, the escapism of empty, expansive highways offers solace; for others, the new places to discover and people to meet bring epiphany experiences; and for some the change of scenery allows them to simply continue to practice their craft, newly invigorated by fresh subjects. Our On The Road series explores the American road trips made by Magnum photographers in order to understand why the idea of road tripping across America has captured the imagination of so many.
For Welsh Magnum photographer David Hurn, who first joined the agency in 1965, the opportunity to travel across Arizona on numerous occasions between 1979 and 2001 provided a total departure from his usual surroundings. Despite being thousands of miles away from Cardiff in Wales – 5,048 to be exact – Hurn found himself drawn to photographing people as they went about their daily lives. In Arizona, Hurn observed all-American pursuits like cheerleading, rounding up wild horses, and marching bands, as well as the quirks of the lives of ordinary citizens of the state, as he visited a Dolly Parton lookalike competition, a fraternity dance and a ladies only club where ladies are entertained by nearly-nude male dancers.
"[Arizona was] the exact opposite of my home country Wales. The contrasts appealed to me."
- David Hurn
In 1979-80 David Hurn was awarded a UK/USA Bicentennial Fellowship, which allowed him a year to travel around America, photographing it. With the entire country at his disposal, one state in particular piqued Hurn’s interest the most. “I chose Arizona – it is the most right wing state in America, plus it is the driest state in America. The exact opposite of my home country Wales. The contrasts appealed to me.”
"I love to observe what people - or, better still, groups of people - are doing"
- David Hurn
"There is more pleasure, for me, in things as they are"
- David Hurn
Hurn’s new environment didn’t call for a new photographic approach. It remained the same as always – to simply observe and let life happen. “Life as it unfolds in front of the camera is full of so much complexity, wonder and surprise that I find it unnecessary to create new realities. There is more pleasure, for me, in things as they are,” Hurn has said.
Hurn fell in love with Arizona and continued to make several trips back between 1979 and 2001. The photographer’s recurring subject throughout decades of work has been ordinary people pursuing ordinary pursuits, and in Arizona he turned his inimitable eye to the Arizonians he encountered, in their daily life, their schools, exercise classes, as well as turning his lens towards the landscape they exist within.
“I love to observe what people – or, better still, groups of people – are doing. I’ve always been nosy, I suppose, and having a camera allows one to indulge one’s curiosity and record it. The incredible pleasure of photography is that you have to be there to do it. You have to get outside and meet people… And being there can be extraordinary.”
A book featuring some of Hurn’s photography made over these trips, Arizona Trips, foreworded by Sir Christopher Fraling is published in October 2017 by Reel Art Press.
See more On The Road stories here.