“I sometimes think of America as not so much a collection of states,” wrote the New York-based writer Hanya Yanagihara in a Guardian article from July 2015, “as one long highway punctuated by motels. One of these motels’ distinguishing characteristics is their sameness: their surrounding area is always denuded of trees; they are furtive, somehow, despite how unprotected, how defenceless they seem. Another is their particular sense of sorrow: they are receptacles people pass through from one place to another, and so, architecturally and aesthetically, they’re not meant to inspire affection.” Some of Yanagihara’s dark and weighty Booker-shortlisted and National Award-finalist novel A Little Life (2015) – which I am reading currently – is set in and around motels.
In the book The Motel in America (1996), authors John A Jakle, Jefferson S. Rogers, Keith A. Sculle explain:
When they venture away from home, nearly all Americans regularly depend upon motels. The motel is a vital part of the service infrastructure that insures the geographical mobility so vital to modern American life. Travelers on commercial rounds, movers shifting residences, tourists on vacation, conferees attending meetings – all require convenient, functional and secure lodging, and a hospitality industry has evolved to provide it. Our modern nation would be difficult to imagine without motels, a fact forcefully reflected in their nearly ubiquitous presence in the American landscape. Motels break down parochialism by connecting isolated places to one another and to worlds beyond. They promote homogenization. They facilitate the movement of people and, through people, the flow of ideas and material goods.
Los Angeles-based photographer Ed Freeman loves capturing these unavoidable units of American life but not so much for their desolation or utility. “I don’t think about what I do. I just do it,” he says. “I see these old, often abandoned motels on some totally forgotten back road in the middle of nowhere and every fiber of my being says, ‘photograph this!’ So I do. I mean, how could I NOT do it??? Thinking has nothing to do with it; I’m not thinking; I’m just following orders.
“Same thing when I open the picture up in the computer: ‘How does this picture want to be treated?’ The picture is directing the manipulation, not me. I’m just doing to it what the picture is telling me to do. So in the final analysis, I can’t take credit for any of these pictures. There’s no aesthetic or political agenda determining what I do; I’m just driving down the road and photographing what the Universe is telling me to photograph. And that’s pretty much the same for all my pictures.”
Ed started his career in the music industry. He was a road manager on the last Beatles tour, has played the guitar on dozens of pop recordings, conducted orchestral arrangements for the likes of Carly Simon and Cher and produced over two dozen albums, including Don McLean’s immortal and controversial American Pie of 1971. He gradually transitioned to his other great love, photography, some twenty five years ago.
Regarding his influences, he says: “I’m inspired by many artists, but none of them do work that looks anything like mine. I’m mostly interested in painters, not photographers: almost any Impressionist painter you can name, plus Adolphe Bouguereau, Maxfield Parrish, Dali, Picasso, Hieronymus Bosch, etc. Photographers I particularly admire include Edward Weston, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, the Starn twins, Sebastiao Salgado, Hiro, James Nachtwey and Andreas Gursky.”
Here is a selection of beautifully captured motels and abandoned places. Ed has also photographed cityspaces, the homeless, underwater figures, among other subjects. Learn more on the website – www.edfreeman.com. Facebook page is www.facebook.com/edfreemanphoto/ and Saatchi Art profile – www.saatchiart.com/edfreeman. All images used with permission.