U.S.80 was the first coast-to-coast highway in America, pre-dating even the fabled Route 66. It spans nearly 3,000 miles and runs between Savannah, Georgia and San Diego, California, covering an enormous diversity of the American landscape and culture.
This includes the rural south, scarred by civil war and civil rights, boom towns of Texas enriched with oil surplus, and creeping scarcity as scrubland gives way to the western deserts along the Mexican border. Having been superseded by interstates, this once thriving road now lies neglected through parts of America that are frequently overlooked anyway.
During three visits between 2008 and 2009, I travelled U.S.80 with a friend several times, building a collection of large format photographs that document the road and its environs. I have always had a fascination with America and particularly with the travelogue genre of American film and literature. Through this prism, I wanted to explore my interests in forgotten worlds and slightly wild, inhospitable landscapes, as well as the often transient nature of America’s built environment – something that reflects the history of migration in their culture.
The project is being published as a book in the next month with a foreword from the renowned journalist and broadcaster Jon Snow, and then exhibited at Cole Contemporary on Little Portland Street during London’s Frieze Art Fair.
Eckersley and Shield have been photographing for the best part of a decade, after initially studying at LCC and St.Martin’s. In that time, Eckersley spent a number of years working as an architecture and interiors photographer for a London design agency, whilst Shields worked as a graphic designer for a news channel in Washington DC. However, it is their collaborations together that have produced their most arresting work.
Their first project, Left London, was an historic study of derelict sites and buildings around their home city. It reflected their interest in abandoned spaces and garnered wide critical acclaim. After setting up Stucco Press to publish the work as a 176 page book, Sarah Kent (Time Out’s influential Art Editor) was among consenting voices when she asserted that “never before has vanity publishing led to such a splendid publication”.
The success of the book prompted involvement in two high-profile exhibitions. The first was London Stories, a privately-funded show at Shoreditch Town Hall, the second was the Photo London 2007 exhibition in Old Billingsgate Market. Furthermore, work from this project is held by various collectors, including the sportswear company Nike, and Sir Elton John.
U.S.80 is their latest collaboration, named for the first coast-to-coast highway in America on which the project focuses. Shot between 2008 and 2009, Eckersley and Shields used only large and medium film stock to extensively document the road and it’s environs. Again, it explores their deep interest in forgotten worlds and wild, inhospitable landscapes, with a humanity and reverence that was revealed in Left London. With a foreword from the renowned broadcasted Jon Snow, the book was published in September 2010, with a further project due for publication in 2011.