More from the virtually inexhaustible John Margolies Roadside America Photograph Archive
Born in 1940 in New Canaan, Connecticut, John Margolies became interested in roadside attractions as a child, riding in the backseat of his parents’ car on trips to neighboring Hartford. At age 16, he obtained his driver’s license and began sightseeing in his 1948 Oldsmobile.
In 1962, he obtained a BA in journalism and art history at the University of Pennsylvania and enrolled at the Annenberg School of Communication. Upon graduation, he was appointed Assistant Editor of Architectural Record and then Program Director of the Architectural League of New York.
In the mid-1970s, he began photographing vernacular architecture, taking extended road trips across the US. Initially, he knew little about photography, says Phil Patton in Roadside America (2010). “He stuck with his venerable Canon cameras,” using “a basic, 50mm lens almost exclusively and ASA 25 film” to “obtain maximum color saturation.”
Margolies normally rented a car and “embark[ed] in the late spring or after Labor Day, when the families and tourists were not crowding the roads.” He packed “coolers for keeping the film cool” and “separate bags for [toiletries] and kitchen [supplies].” Most nights, he stayed in motels, which he documented in Home Away From Home: Motels in America (1995). He always brought “clothespins to secure the drapes” and “a Fred Flintstone night light on a 20-foot extension cord to illuminate unfamiliar bathrooms,” says Patton. He preferred to photograph early mornings with cloudless, blue skies and would skip sites if the light wasn’t right or if cars blocked the scene. As he stated in Roadside America, “I love the light at that time of day; it’s like golden syrup. Everything is fresh and no one is there to bother you.”
[This one goes out to Captain Monroe, landscape photographer.]