The US is arguably the most romanticised of current cultures, competing in its fantasies and exaggerations with the likes of Ancient Egypt and Rome. The stereotypes and dreams that make up America’s caricature, inked in with both the good and bad, are peopled with Hollywood manufactured images and remnants of an American dream. Some have grown in prominence lately; respect that ubiquitous flag, the strange masculinity of the American male, the dollar means more than experience, intelligence or endurance. Some tropes however are, to some extent, true. One of these is the romantic attraction, known worldwide, of American roads. Route 66 is as famous a landmark on the map of America as the Empire State or the Grand Canyon, and American movies have spent years laying out the mythology of their road journeys.
In Jim Lo Scalzo’s series of photographs, we see another of the US’s endless ribbons of tarmac: the Dalton Highway. What is quickly evident about the Dalton Highway is that, there is none of the glamour that its native cousins might wear. It is an incredibly desolate highway, an empty road where the pit stops are rare and the fellow travellers along it are few. What Lo Scalzo’s photographs demonstrate is the inherent beauty of such a stark path, of the nature that it paves through. Think of the many-faced geography of the continent, its fields, snow, and forests, and the Dalton Highway drives a line through them. Originally, the road was built to aid in the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, but now it is simply a public road. It lives in an Arctic world, and part of the Highway holds a sign that tells you that you are now in the Arctic Circle.
The photographs feel like they were taken of the same road, but from an earlier time in the 20th century. The modern world, it seems, has been mostly pushed back from its edges, and to look through the shots is to feel a strange disconnect from the America so well-known. A disconnect from a US so in need of distractions at the moment. But it remains unmistakably, in possibly the best form, American. The images hold no ambiguity as to where in the world you are seeing. Like Russia’s winters and British storms, there is an idiosyncratic beauty to an American landscape, and the Dalton Highway passes through its intimidating northern reaches in a different decade.
Photo Credits: Jim Lo Scalzo