We’ve been fans of John’s work since discovering one of his earliest books (The End of the Road: Vanishing Highway Architecture in America) and we’ve been friends since we waylaid him as he carried a truly great pig sign through a NYC Pier antique show in 1985. Our common lust for that sign turned into conversation and discovery of many more shared interests. We’ve acknowledged his work in our own books.
In the days of two-lane highways with unrestricted access to individual entrepreneurs, there was an explosion of roadside expressionism. John recognized the remarkable landscape created by the individualistic structures in the brief flowering of Mom-and-Pop commercial design before roadsides and downtown business districts were gobbled up by corporations.
John has a consistent, disciplined approach to his Kodachrome-only photography that expresses his understanding of the subject without becoming sentimental or nostalgic. He gives enough context – but not too much. Patience was key – waiting for the sun to shed the right light. This big city photog didn’t mind asking Wyoming cowboys to move their pick-up trucks so he could get the right straight-on shot of a neon-encrusted bar. His memory for these icons is phenomenal – considering they are scattered across the country and across decades of photo safaris. Driving through Arkansas, we spotted an out of the way taxidermy business with bas relief rabbit in concrete over its door. We thought sure we’d discovered it. But – alas for us - when we called him with the news not only had he already photographed it, but he described the road it was on, the angle it faced and other points essential to taking a Margolies shot of the place. See Brown’s Taxidermy Studio of Camden Arkansas on page 73 of Roadside America.
Go to John's Web site to explore his remarkable vision and bibliography. Lucky for all of us, the Library of Congress has begun to acquire John's photographs with the intention of preserving them and making them available to future generations – priceless!