hayley eichenbaum captures the 'wilting romanticism' of the american southwest
The LA-based photographer has completed Route 66 eight times, documenting her journey as she drives.
Photo by Hayley Eichenbaum.
When photographer Hayley Eichenbaum finished college in 2013, studying at the San Francisco Art Institute and the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, she was feeling lost. While working at The Pitch Project, an artist-run studio in her hometown of Milwaukee, she decided to plan a month-long solo road trip along Route 66. That became first of eight times she has driven down the historic highway, capturing cinematic photos of fascinating buildings as she travels.
Previously creating interdisciplinary work that explored the “western ideals of the female façade,” the trip shifted Hayley's focus to exterior and landscape photography. “It was after my first trip along Route 66 that I made the decision to move to LA and focus full time on photography,” she explains. The 30-year-old artist relocated in 2015, and has been based there ever since. Her work continues to dive deeper into the “dramatic” and romanticized world of highway and roadside exteriors, including this series called “The Mother Road."
Yet Hayley’s still an interdisciplinary artist at heart, hoping to create more of her installations, kinetic sculptures, videos, and performance art pieces this year. Her Instagram handle, @inter_disciplinary, references this word, and she’s already gained a large following. “I’m still surprised by it,” she says. “I didn’t create my account with any expectations, I’m just really grateful for what’s come of it.”
i-D caught up with Hayley before she once again hits the open road.
You're not formally trained in photography, how did you start?
Photography was always present in my practice in some capacity, but it wasn’t a primary medium of mine until about six years ago when I began traveling more frequently. I became hooked to the immediacy of it. Over the years I’ve made efforts to learn more about the complexities and capabilities of my camera. I can see my aesthetic evolve as I gain more technical knowledge. I’m having fun with it.
Your earlier work explored womanhood, how did you transition into landscapes?
I was creating work that confronted Western ideals of the female façade. I was questioning how women are expected to present and preserve themselves. In a circuitous way that work eventually sparked an interest in architectural façades.
What interests you in photographing architecture?
Exteriors alone can tell a dramatic story. Highway and roadside architecture is often shamelessly seductive with their neon invitations and nostalgic colors. I’m interested in structures that are unapologetic in their desire for attention.
Tell me about the idea behind the project "The Mother Road."
The series unfolded pretty organically as I traveled along Route 66. What remains of the original route is half wilted yet somehow hopeful. The preservation of its romanticized reputation is crucial to its continued socioeconomic survival. I wanted to examine an environment that remains dependent on the adoration of its glory days and celebrate its surviving kitsch.
What was the process of taking these photos?
There is the process of shooting and then the post-production process, which are equally important for me. I prefer to travel and shoot alone, with a loose outline of the routes I’ll be driving and the towns I’ll be visiting. Getting the shot takes either quick action or tempered patience. That being said, weather-watching has become a second job of mine, as skyscapes are an important part of the final imagery. The end goal is always an uncanny quality – much like the aesthetic of a movie set.
Where have you always wanted to photograph?
It’s a long and ever-changing list, but Morocco and Portugal are at the top of that list.
Why did you want your Instagram to reference the word "interdisciplinary"?
When I began my account I had a strong interdisciplinary approach to making. I like to think my work still winds through several different categories and can exist in different contexts. It’s definitely not the easiest handle to search for, but I’m kind of married to it now.
What's coming up in the future for your work?
I will be working on a new series this year based outside of the US. The details are still being ironed out, but I look forward to sharing that work as it evolves. I’m also in the very early stages of turning The Mother Road series into a photo book. And finally, my online shop will reopen in April, stocked with new limited-edition c-prints.