william eckersley alexander shields – u.s.80

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William Eckersley and Alexander Shields


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These photographs are from a recently completed body of work, titled U.S.80.

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 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 Having been superseded by interstates, this once thriving road now lies neglected through parts of America that are also frequently overlooked.

During three visits between 2008 and 2009, we travelled U.S.80 several times, building a collection of large and medium format photographs that document the road and its environs. We’ve always had a fascination with America and particularly with the travelogue genre of American film and literature. Through this prism, we wanted to explore our 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 U.S. culture.

The project was recently published as a book with a foreword by the renowned journalist and broadcaster Jon Snow, and exhibited at Cole Contemporary on Little Portland Street during London’s Frieze Art Fair.


Eckersley and Shields have been photographing for the better 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 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- London Stories at Shoreditch Town Hall and the Photo London 2007 exhibition in Old Billingsgate Market. Work from this project is held by various collectors, including the sportswear company Nike, and Sir Elton John.

U.S.80 was published as a book in September 2010, with a foreword by the renowned journalist and broadcaster Jon Snow, and complimented by an exhibition at Cole Contemporary on Little Portland Street during London’s Frieze Art Fair. Eckersley has a further project, with the working title of Dark City, due for publication in 2011.

Related links

Eckersley and Shields

US 80 The Book

64 Responses to “william eckersley alexander shields – u.s.80”

  • MW…

    I don’t know, I just have immense trouble reconciling with the love for Frank’s essay. I just keep seeing a guy who has disdain for everyone round him. Hey! I may be totally wrong but I tend to always look for the positive in others work… can’t find it anywhere in that book and it bothers me intensely.

  • Well my last comment also goes to Bob :) another spate of synchronicity :) I wouldn’t be surprised if David even though he is an ardent fan of the Americans can see my point about the negativity…

  • Of course a major part of an artist’s work is about the artist. That’s not the question. The question is is the artist interesting?

  • I do long haul trips here in Oz 3-4 times a year ……. hardly ever take the camera out …………… got better things to do

  • JEFF:
    for those who don’t see it remember a certain project from a few decades ago, where a foreigner drove the roads across America, and how his work was criticized
    Who knows, Maybe they remembered that certain project, and still feel like criticizing the essay….

  • I read every interview and essay written on the Americans i find…i begin to like this gentleman, i watch some video interview and things get better, i begin to think i’ve found a new perspective on the Americans and as I’ve said i enjoying listening and reading his interviews…then i pick up the book and i just don’t recognize the artist i previously enjoyed…

  • Paul. All the books I have seen of this work are a disapointment. having seen the work in the flesh at the met I can confirm that it is mainly stunning. at proper print size they have real weight and gravity.
    Maybe its good to stop trying to intelectualise work and second guess artists motives. LOOK at the work.
    Each individual image is a self contained statement/question/
    That there is coherence running through all the series is an achievment, but most of the pictures themselves, in isolation, are still great photography.

  • Hi,
    Just a quick thanks to anyone taking the time to look at our essay! I’ll try to make a few relevant remarks, but as a “first-time caller” watch out for this reply going somewhat off track…
    The portraits were in fact shot 6×7, whilst the landscapes were usually 5×4.
    no.36 (Prada shop) does indeed exist. It’s near Marfa in Texas and is the only shot that’s not actually on old route 80 – we just loved it a lot (although contentiously it’s not of course our artwork and credits should be due elsewhere).
    no.14 was an amazing house (didn’t explore inside though) – derelict and abandoned spaces are old interests of mine…
    I’m not sure about the space between the camera and subject for the portraits, I’ll have to ask Alex… Although I do like that style – very continental deadpan! I guess the road (and its geography) was always the thread running through the project, so we felt those shots worked better as more “environmental portraits” rather than closeups.
    Tommy (no.29) was a nice guy, albeit a sandwich short of a picnic – kinda glad he didn’t pull the trigger.
    I don’t think shooting on film necessarily makes anything better (just harder!), but they do have great resolution for prints. I do also like the look of film, and how it doesn’t render shots as cleanly and clinically as digital can. I think this poster (and many others) have talked in their comments about Soth, Shore, Sternfeld and others in comparison to how our essay looks… If anyone is simply wondering whether we’re just ripping off these guys – of course! Not even particularly well! Hey, I guess we all have start somewhere; SSS and others (Simon, Struth or Seawright for example) are people I admire a lot, and I hope channeling them in some small way will help my own style develop, etc. I believe it important to try to break the rules (and aspire to try this), but at this stage I’m not sure I know the rules sufficiently! Sorry to those who found it too generic – wait for my next project (Gregory Crewdson and Todd Hido’s lawyers particularly).
    Apologies also to anyone wanting more explanation from the captions. Somehow less is more, and great detail reveals how pedestrian most situations are – although I’m sure it can be frustrating for the viewer…
    Regarding photo-pairs, I’d add Chanarin and Broomberg, and thanks for a lovely post! Stillness is definitely something I want to bring to my photography. There is an element of been there and seen it in this stuff though – I wish I had more time in that part of the world to get under the skin, and I did always feel like a tourist. I guess you need to know the rules before breaking them, and know a subject (truly well) before revealing it (err, truly well!)
    Lastly, someone mentioned a dead animal museum in Tuscon, which I’m now gutted to have missed! Lura was shot in the Touchstone Museum (owned by her family) outside Shreveport.
    Phew… thanks again for looking at our photos, and well done getting all the way through this essay. Not sure I’ve quite got the hang of simply “commenting”, and since this has taken an hour, it might be my last for a while! Best wishes,

  • Will!:

    Thanks a lot for that review. Thanks too for adding Chanarin and Broomberg to the short list. I’m thinking these days about David’s Rio trip, and to an extent how the energies of the “dreamteam” (as was described, and headed, by Roberta :) ) spilled over into David’s work. This is of particular interest as I’ve shared the excitement of working with another photographer in such a manner as to elevate and inspire the both of us. I wonder about the energies of the two of you on this road trip, and whether each of you experienced a sum greater than the parts. For instance, #16 “Copper Stained Wall” brings to me an association with Ayers’ Rock in Australia. Were either of you thinking geologically during the moment?

    Congratulations on the essay, and thanks for the post above. Now, more please!


    Keep in mind that when we read “The Americans” these days, it is sort of like that saying about “sleeping with your lover’s lovers”. One aspect that makes the work one of the most important photography books of the last century is all of the pondering and contemplation that has come after it. It’s been analyzed like no other and we can’t help but to experience it through the prism of others, before us. I’m not even too sure we can read it the way Frank’s first critics could. Just a few essays ago, Imants wrote of how Van Gogh transcended the Impressionists; but that is ex-post to the time. Cezanne told Vincent -then- that he “painted like a madman”…not the sort of thing a struggling artist wants to hear from his hero!

    Top of the day Bob:

    No, I didn’t see the quiet photographer…and how did I miss the hot wife! ;) But, while paying at the parking lot, I did have a short, awe-struck and inarticulate conversation with Towell (and his hot partner). I noticed no cell phone or camera on him…at least not his X-Pan…

    De Tocqueville, huh? Were you in Toronto late seventies and sit in on Harold Bloom’s lectures about the man? Read Bloom, maybe? Or about him as Saul Bellows Ravelstein?

  • Actually… Ravelstein=Allan Bloom.

  • WILL :)

    thanks for chiming in…good stuff…still would love a project beyond the obvious pictorial nomencluature…would be interesting to see Chanarin and Broomberg and you and Alexander take a road trip, open up the back of a uhaul and create a long exposure/back-of-the-truck camera obscura….that’d be worth it :)))…stick around :))

    Paul: ditto, about frank…a major problem with ideas (and criticism) of work of the pass is that we both see/feel and analyze vis-a-vis our own concerns/ideas in this time….Errol Morris wrote about this phenomenon recently in the Times (see MW’s link)….i’ll try to wade in on Frank next week..

    Jeff: nope…i was a kid in the 70’s….but i sat in a bloom lecture in Chicago….and yes, have read bloom…and yes, Ravelstein…sometimes i love bloom, sometimes i do not…mixed feelings…bellow, always love, period…i’m amerian….toronto/canada is a relatively new experience for me (since i got hitched and left my life and art career in the states for anonymity of toronto….been a rejeuvination….will fill u in on that when we meet…and yes, Larry is an amazing guy and very gracious…..and his wife is a writer, but i don’t know who he was accompanied by….and yes, my wife is both hot/intelligent and kind/loving and a great artists to boot….her next show, this october….

  • Michael – yikes! Yes, meant Allan.

    Bob – I figured…and did mean Mrs.T! ;)

  • John Gladdy…

    Thanks, yes it does seem to be a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. I’m going to just LOOK as you quite rightly pointed out and enjoy the work and forget the over-intellectualise the images.

  • Sometimes the comments that accompany these essays can evoke as much thought as the essay itself. In any work of reasonable competence, almost any aspect can be singled out for either criticism or praise. That said (and without comparison to Soth, Shore, “new topographists”, etc.), as a subjective preference, I would have liked to see at least a few candid images of some of the individuals along US 80. Not that “candid” is intrinsically superior to “posed”, but rather that candid shots have a higher likelihood of capturing an energy, dynamism, or enigmatic quality than a posed photograph. This is a minor quibble, however, for the images of the woman leanng against the truck cab, the man in the street with his pitbull, the well-dressed gentleman in the blue suit all give the viewer clues as to their lifestyles and personality. (“Tommy” of Benson, AZ is immediately powerful for its dark humor.) And in this instance, one could just as easily praise the posed images for consistency of style.

    The images in this essay which, to me, convey the greatest atmosphere and sense of place are of lone houses and buildings. Love the lone Prada store in Marfa, TX, and the night shot of the jacked up truck in Midland, TX. Sometimes comparisons are hard to avoid, as the interior shot of the motel room in El Paso resonates with some of Eggleston’s work.

    Some might criticize this essay as being derivative (but then, what isn’t?), but overall I find it engaging, atmospheric, and the whole essay weightier than the sum of its parts.

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