Steve Fitch: Highway Culture, on view at the photo-eye Gallery in Santa Fe through April 14, includes more than 30 photographs culled from four of the photographer’s existing portfolios produced from the 1970s to 2010 – Vernacular Assemblages, Llano Estacado, Diesels and Dinosaurs, and Western Landmarks. The majority of images picture what would now be considered roadside anachronisms.

With degrees in anthropology and photography, Fitch is well equipped to explore the cultural anthropology of wayside America, and his vintage motel signs and drive-in movie theaters – replete with nostalgic ‘50s neon lights -- are essentially time capsules. Shot in both black-and-white and color in daytime and at night, Fitch’s photographs capture a bygone era when family vacations were king and dating was cheap – $5 got you movie tickets, a clunky speaker that hung on your car window, popcorn and two sodas, and two or more hours of alone time with your one true love. But Fitch’s pictures are void of people. They stand as documents of a socio-architectural aesthetic that was distinctly American. Curbside monuments comprised of flashy, blinking color combinations signaled low-budget accommodations or second-run movies. Starlite Motel, Mesa, Arizona (1980) is marked by a stand-alone vertical sign spelling out “MOTEL” in stacked letters adorned with a blonde bathing beauty doing a high-dive. The entryway facade to Drive-in Theater, Highway 81, Waco, Texas (1972) sports a gigantic grizzly bear running headlong off the sign.

In addition to Fitch’s generational landmarks are five photographs of lone radio towers. Situated in sparse locales in Texas and New Mexico, each tower is positioned dead- center within the frame, surrounded by beautiful, nuanced skies that are reminiscent of work by Joel Meyerowitz and Richard Misrach. Seemingly unlike Fitch’s other work, they, too, are like monuments, with a marked presence on the landscape.

By Douglas Fairfield












Starlite Motel, Mesa, Arizona, December 28, 1980. Courtesy photo-eye Gallery