Whenever photographer Paul McDonough had enough time and money to get out of the city in the ’70s and ’80s, the New Yorker would pack his camera bag and drive.
He had a brother in Oregon and friends in Los Angeles, New Orleans and elsewhere, so he’d have an end destination in mind, but he kept the itinerary loose.
“The whole point for me as a photographer was to be ready for unscheduled stops,” McDonough said.
In a way, he said, he was looking for a distraction.
“Some states take a day to get through, and you might not feel inclined to get off the highway,” he said. “Others kept you there for a few days.”
McDonough did part-time work for advertising studios and taught part-time at the Pratt Institute of Art. He would save up to buy a beat-up secondhand car, work on it until it ran, then take off for a few months.
“I’d try to go as long as the money would hold out,” he said.
Whether he was shooting on the streets of New York or from the window of his car, McDonough didn’t stop moving. He sought small towns and “sleepy places” rather vacation resorts.
He looked “for what people are doing, where they live, what’s the entertainment in that part of the world,” he said.
He would stay with friends, at motels for $15 a night, or with a kind-hearted stranger with some extra room.
Friends, colleagues or girlfriends kept him company on some trips. But sometimes, it was just the radio for company.
Not all girlfriends passed the “road test,” but one in particular seemed to pass with flying colors. He married her a year later.
“If you can keep each other engaged, that’s a very good sign,” he said.
McDonough’s travel and work practice is not for everyone. Sometimes he’d decide that he wanted to revisit scenery he’d seen 20 or 30 miles back down the road.
“I had to have someone pretty tolerant to be willing to go back,” he said.
Like many a free-spirit of the era, he was inspired by Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road,” as well as by photographer Robert Frank, whose portfolio shows his explorations of the U.S. with his wife and kids.
McDonough said he “wasn’t the hitchhiking type,” but once stuck his thumb out heading west and ended up getting a ride from Boston to California’s Yosemite National Park, where he camped for a while before hitching a ride all the way to the West Coast.
“It’s a great feeling that you can get someplace by luck and other people’s goodwill,” he said.
- Lauren Russell, CNN
McDonough’s collection titled “Sight seeing” is on exhibition at the Sasha Wolf Gallery in New York until May 5.