Jack Murphy earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Photography from SUNY-New Paltz and has been shooting commercial artifacts in our region and beyond since the late 1960s. As a longtime member of the Society for Commercial Archeology – the oldest national organization devoted to the buildings, artifacts, structures, signs and symbols of the 20th-century commercial landscape – Murphy has amassed a collection of photographs celebrating the genre, 23 of which will be hung in the Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz this month.
“The photographs in this exhibition are from a continuing series of images, made over the past seven years,” says Murphy. “Although the images in the individual photographs may seem unrelated, all share a common origin: They were collected on day trips.”
Waxing more poetic than photographic, he goes on to express his passion for taking local road trips and traveling simply for the sake of travel. The visual experiences of visiting historic sites or exploring a city for the first time pique the photographer’s creative impulses, he explains, citing author William Least Heat-Moon’s books on slow travel across the country.
“The key to this type of travel is to get off the highways, travel the old main roads and back roads, the Blue Highways: roads marked with the color blue on old maps,” says Murphy. “I’ve been taking day trips and recording my impressions for many years, here in New York and New England, as well as in California and Arizona. The photographs in this show are from a series of day trips taken with my friend, Tom Mounkhall.” Their mutual interest in architecture, history and the Industrial Revolution’s effect on American towns is documented in work accumulated in close to 20 such day trips. “We’ve driven the route of the Susquehanna Turnpike from Unadilla to Catskill, and followed the path of the D & H Canal from start to finish. We’ve roamed around Binghamton, Stamford, Cherry Valley, Amsterdam, Troy, Hudson Falls, Cohoes, Schenectady, Saratoga and Athens, New York. Other trips have taken us to [towns in] Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.”
Recording and preserving images of old diners, roadways, gas stations, drive-in theaters, bus stations, tourist courts, neon signs and other iconic structures has a way of becoming an obsession for people inclined to this slow style of travel. He writes, “You can experience a sense of place through the landscape, the buildings and homes, the signs of industry (both current and especially past) and the odd roadside attractions. It’s also a great way to meet people and hear interesting stories. The locals may be curious or surprised at your interest in their town at first, but they will appreciate it and answer your questions enthusiastically. Traveling this way, you can become a part of the place, even if only for one day.”