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Travel

David Hurn’s Arizona

David Hurn’s visits to Arizona transported him from the valleys of Wales to the sun-cracked deserts of one of America’s driest states

David Hurn

David Hurn High school bands practice for a mass bands competition in the Arizona State University Football stadium. Arizona. USA. 1979. © David Hurn | Magnum Photos

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.

David Hurn Outdoor group fitness early in the morning in the retirement Sun City. Ages range from 60 to a 94 year old who had run a 50secs hundred meters in the Senior Olympics. The sense of fun and communi (...)
David Hurn Cactus nursery. Arizona. USA. 1977. © David Hurn | Magnum Photos
David Hurn Cactus Forest Road. Florence, Arizona. USA. 1980. © David Hurn | Magnum Photos

"[Arizona was] the exact opposite of my home country Wales. The contrasts appealed to me."

- David Hurn
David Hurn Retirement members of Sherriff Possee, the police of Sun city at weapons practice. Sun City, Arizona. USA. © David Hurn | Magnum Photos
David Hurn A retired patriotic gentleman goes about his business using a tricycle. Sun City, Arizona. USA. 1979. © David Hurn | Magnum Photos
David Hurn The marching bands are always led by baton twirlers, who practice their acrobatics before the actual march takes place. Preparation for the annual Christmas parade in Phoenix, Arizona. 1979. © David Hurn | Magnum Photos
David Hurn Phoenix. Dolly Parton look-alike contest. Arizona, USA. 1979. © David Hurn | Magnum Photos

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
David Hurn The round-up of the last wild horses in the desert of Arizona. The wild horse is captured with the traditional lasso and roping by working cowboys. Bullhead City, Arizona. USA. 1980. © David Hurn | Magnum Photos
David Hurn Student football run-around on the campus grounds of ASU. Tempe, Arizona. USA. 1979. © David Hurn | Magnum Photos
David Hurn Fraternity Dance ASU. Lambda Chi Alpha. Tempe, Arizona. USA. 1979. © David Hurn | Magnum Photos
David Hurn "Cheeks" a ladies only club just outside the city limits of Phoenix. Male strippers are the main entertainment of the evening. General, Arizona. USA. 1980. © David Hurn | Magnum Photos

"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.

David Hurn Senior citizens relive their youth as cheerleaders. 1992. © David Hurn | Magnum Photos
David Hurn Arizona, USA. 2000. © David Hurn | Magnum Photos
David Hurn Gay Ball at the Registry Resort. Black transvestite. Phoenix, Arizona. USA. 1979. © David Hurn | Magnum Photos

“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.

David Hurn At the height of summer one of the favourite activities of the mainly young is tubing. This consists of gently drifting down the river (Salt River) over the many miles of the course and spending u (...)
David Hurn The enthusiastic supporters of the Arizona State University Football Team at a home game against Utah. Tempe, Arizona. USA. 1979. © David Hurn | Magnum Photos
David Hurn Knitted booties in the Home Making Art Competition. Arizona state fair, Arizona. USA. © David Hurn | Magnum Photos
David Hurn Desert sign in the desert near Tombstone. Arizona, USA. 1980. © David Hurn | Magnum Photos
David Hurn Surreal juxtaposition of sun reflector in the windows of a car. Helps keep the inside of the car cool in the very hot mid-day sun, sometimes 120 F, with the local landscape near Slide Rock. Oak Cr (...)