Terrence Moore has documented Route 66 with his camera for more than 40 years, giving him a lot a props simply because you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who’s done it that long. The huge majority of photographers became drawn to the Mother Road after it was decertified during the 1980s, not before.
But if you’re a Route 66 photographer looking for a way to sell a book of your work, you could do a lot worse than what Michael Wallis — known for 1990’s best-selling “Route 66: The Mother Road” — wrote in the forward of Moore’s new book.
“During the course of my career as a journalist and author I have had occasion to work with some truly outstanding photographers. Many of them have won major awards and received international acclaim for their impressive bodies of work. In my book, none of them — not a single one — measures up to Terrence Moore.”
That’s what I call an endorsement.
Fortunately, Moore’s “66 on 66: A Photographer’s Journey” (144 pages, Schaffner Press, color photos) is more than pretty and well-composed photographs. Because he’s been taking photos along Route 66 since the early 1970s, that gives the book much historical heft. Simply put, he captured images from the Mother Road before they disappeared.
Some of Moore’s photos showed up in Rolling Stone, Smithsonian, Arizona Highways and the New York Times. Perhaps most famously, at least two images in “66 on 66” — the entrance to the Regal Reptile Ranch near Alanreed, Texas, and a forlorn “Tucumcari Tonite!” billboard in western Oklahoma — before were published in Wallis’ seminal “Route 66: The Mother Road.” Interestingly, “66 on 66: A Photographer’s Journey” is the first book that concentrates solely on Moore’s work.
In “66 on 66,” Moore doesn’t train his lens to people much, but to objects — neon lighting, signs, billboards and murals. Though a few of the images in the book date as far back as 1971, old-time businesses were beginning to vanish on Route 66 even then.
A few examples of the long-gone:
- A worn billboard stating “U.S. Hwy. 66” west of Tucumcari, New Mexico, in 1988
- A “Texas 66” highway sign with reflective dots in the letters in 1973
- A Navajo Motel neon sign in Holbrook, Arizona, in 1974
- A Flying M Ranch Motel neon sign in Tucumcari in 1976
- A Star 6 Motel neon sign featuring a sombrero-wearing man sleeping against a cactus in Kingman, Arizona, in 1980
What’s startling is the book also captures images from places that have changed little over the decades. The so-called Curevo Cutoff between Cuervo and Santa Rosa, New Mexico, looked as remote in 1984 as now. The “Here It Is” billboard near Jackrabbit Trading Post in Arizona looks same as it did in 1978. Neon signs such as El Vado Motel in Albuquerque, Blue Spruce Lodge in Gallup, New Mexico; Kingman Club in Kingman; and Golden Spur in Glendora, California, look nearly identical as decades ago because of good maintenance or restoration efforts.
Fellow Southwest photographer Clark Worswick wrote the book’s afterward. He and Moore attended College of the Desert in Palm Desert, California, during the 1960s and quickly figured out they were “obsessed with documenting changes in rural America.” They also were inspired by the work of fine-art photographer Ed Ruscha and photographer-turned-actor Dennis Hopper.
Don’t expect to see many images east of Oklahoma in “66 on 66.” Moore always was drawn to Route 66 in the desert Southwest, having grown up near the Mother Road in Claremont, California. He resides in Tucson, Arizona.
I suspect Moore has a lot more Route 66 images in his archives. It’s wise to keep photographic books fairly brief. But, if anything, “66 on 66: A Photographer’s Journey” isn’t long enough.