Across America (2)

I”m one step closer to solving the problem of who took the documentary photographs crossing America, which I remembered seeing a reference to.   Richard Bram has managed to find out through a contact of his that Reed Estabrook, a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, planned a coast-to-coast trip in the early 1970s with a camera connected to his odometer fixed in the right side rear window of his ’57 Chevy, taking a wide-angle photo every 1/4 mile, which he then planned to exhibit in a continuous floor-to-ceiling strip (see   This is definitely as good an answer as I am likely to get.


3 thoughts on “Across America (2)

  1. Martin Hopkinson says:

    There is a Californian photographer still alive Reed Estabrook -this spelling – with a website. He might be your man?

  2. Comments from Reed Estabrook on my post about his photographs:
    Hello, I actually made what is called the North American Cross Section (NACS) 40 years ago starting next month. The 20995 negatives (more than 7 per mile) have now been copied and I hope to have up on the web by years end.

    Interesting post on the blog. Not all that accurate but I did go to RISD and graduated in 1969 and I did drive a 1957 Chevy but that discription of the methodology seems like somebody else’s notion of how I would do it. The concept for the North American Cross Section came while in grad school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in 1970. A local photo retailed had found a bunch of old and unsellable photo supplies and had donated them to the photo program at the SAIC. I was making those multiple negative images ( at the time and going through a lot of film so the faculty gave me this 2000 ft roll out of date roll of Ansco XX film from the retailers donation. And I thought: “Wow, now I can photo all of Chicago; all of ILLINOIS, ALL OF THE UNITED STATES”. It took 7 years and funding from two universities and the loan of a complex Nikon camera system to do it.

    I travelled across the country for the first time in 1966 and as a kid from New England, I was complete blown away by the experience: scale, variety, vast open prairie, huge mountains, etc. Originally I wanted to image America’s “Main Street” and had planned to traveling across the country on US route 20: Boston, Albany, Cleveland, Chicago, Cedar Falls, Iowa where I was living in 1977, across the prairie to Yellowstone National Park and ending at the Oregon Coast.

    But both my sister and I were new parents that year so in the early summer we had a family gathering/beach holiday in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Because of the relative motion of film through camera and camera across the landscape, in order to keep the lens facing away from the sun the piece needed to be made with the camera moving form West to East. So while on that trip to the Boston suburbs, I drove to the Mass/NY State line and photographed my way back into Boston along US route 20 thinking that I was making the Eastern end of the NACS.

    And I immediately discovered that I had grossly underestimated the film needed and therefore the relative scale of the piece. So I had to change the route and this first real test has become the Massachusetts Cross Section (MCS), is about 4500 frames long and will up on the web soon. The NACS was started late that same summer in San Francisco and follows I-80 across the country to NYC and ends in the darkness of Battery Park tunnel at the southern tip of Manhattan. Because of a late start on the first day photographing the camera ended up looking too much into the sun between San Francisco and Sacramento so I returned the following summer and rephotographed the western end with a new starting point. The piece now starts in what was the Waldo Tunnel (now the Robin Williams Tunnel), crosses the Golden Gate Bridge, passes through San Francisco and across the Bay Bridge onto I-80. I-80 was not fully completed in 1977 and in several places the freeway traffic would have to find its way through the main streets of towns like Elko Nev. It would be just under three miles long if it were to be printed 6” high.

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