We’re almost at the southwestern tip of South Dakota when I ask the question that alters my reality. The four of us plus a dog have been on the road for the last 18 hours, only stopping for petrol, leg stretches and to sleep so we can wake at dawn and drive through Badlands National Park in daylight. Our conversation is still going a dozen words a minute and we’re arguing which musicians are American or British: Bowie, The Rolling Stones or The Beatles? I smugly claim them all, and one of my companion's minds is blown. We’ve listened to Bruce Springsteens song ‘Badlands’ over forty times and we’re all a little over-excited to be driving from Chicago to Orange County. Two of the occupants are heading onto New Mexico to mark out land they had bought for a dollar (50 cents each) and for me this will be the furthest I've ever driven without crossing water.
We’d set out on the eve of the spring equinox. Snow had cleared from the Chicago sidewalks and t-shirts are being worn with bravery, though after months in Mexico that was all I had to wear. We packed the tin-can of a rental car with cameras, blankets, food, water, suits, dresses, the dog, and ourselves and, with a little bit of negotiation, we decided to take the north route, passing through Illinois and Iowa, up into South Dakota to visit Badlands and then to head west to Yellowstone and onto California. But, like all unplanned plans, we ended up driving through Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada, ending the group experience in San Francisco when we split ways, hired a separate car and I headed south on Highway 1 to get to a ninetieth birthday party.
Snow had stopped our fun before we even got near Yellowstone, so we zigzagged up and down America, driving ourselves out of conversation and patience as we tried to agree on a national park which would be open and we each had no objections too. As a born and raised Londoner I don’t drive, so had been put in charge of entertainment, but after a while questions about American geography and social economics weren’t cutting it anymore. Like all (road) trips we had intended to be easy-going till we had to compromise, and the only thing we could now agree on was to get to San Francisco as fast as possible to put an end to the misery we had all fallen into from none of us getting what we wanted. We just hoped the IPod wouldn’t give up and we’d at least agree on Bruce Springsteen for another 1000 miles.
In the last few months I’ve had two images used from this particular trip by the DJ and producer Steffi for her new album, Power of Anonymity and the EP, Treasure Seeking and one by Virginia for her EP, My fantasy. When I see these images I’m back in the tin-can, sweeping through epic landscapes and I’m happy. The American landscape has constantly being exported through a hundred different ways of seeing and Paul Strand, David Lynch, Ansel Adams, Disney and Walker Evans have all (in part) collectively informed the way I see. So, as we traveled along at 90 miles an hour, I shot everything I didn’t want to forget, trying to capture a sense of place and being. Trying to set down in pixels what I had experienced from books, galleries and the cinema, but as usual there is one thing I can’t or don’t capture.
I have always considered Disney to be a shared fantasy of childhood and when Cinderella dances with the birds as they help get her dressed in order to meet Prince Charming I always knew it couldn’t be real. We didn’t have blue colored birds in the UK.
‘What’s that bird called?’ I ask. Badlands is still blaring from the car speakers and my camera is balanced between my knees with its lens up pointing at the car roofs upholstery. They're silent and I ask again. ‘That bird, the blue one’, I gesture at the blue flash as it darts across the road. My brain engages. ‘Is that - a Blue Bird?’ They nod, and my mind is blown. I now realize Disney drew from reality and they were real. I can claim David Bowie, but America really does have Blue Birds.