Road trips: an integral part of the ethos of modern man. If you haven’t taken a character-building, eye-opening road trip yourself, you’ve surely travelled — at least in spirit — with Jack Kerouac, Christopher McCandless, or Chevy Chase on their misadventures on the open road.

There is a reason this story is played out over and over and over again. Road trips are for all the adventurers who still exist among us. A road trip is a modern-day pilgrimage. A deep-seated need instilled in all of us to get out under the sky, nothing but a paved path in front of us. A story different for every individual and propagandized to us from sources as early as Marco Polo, the Canterbury Tales, or the Bible.

Local photographer Jens Rosenkrantz Jr. has inserted himself into the genre of pilgrims extraordinaire with his exhibit “Small Town and Long Views” at the Esquire Theater in Clifton. In this exhibit, presented thanks to the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, Rosenkrantz curates from nearly 20,000 images taken over 20,000 miles of travel through the back roads of the United States.

It all started when Rosenkrantz slowed down a drive very familiar to him — from Cincinnati to Maine. He says that it would usually be a straight 15-hour drive to get to Maine as quickly as possible. But, he took his foot off the gas a little in 2014 and ended up soaking in the beauty of the landscape along the way.

“Mostly I stayed off the Interstates and wound my way through the back roads and small towns. I stopped often to take a few photos,” he says. “Actually, a few thousand.”

From there he was infected with the travel bug, making a 6,000-mile road trip along the West Coast the very next year, and a 2,000 mile road trip along the southern border of the United States in 2017. Next Spring, he will be travelling with another photographer through Cuba, expanding his photographic eye outside the borders of the United States.

Observing the compiled snapshots of a single photographer over 20,000 miles, themes and fixations of the individual (which he or s he may not even be aware of) begin to rear their heads.

Rosenkrantz directs his gaze toward the detritus of man-made creations. The shanty houses amidst fields of wheat where forgotten small-town Americans air their sweaty-selves out on the porch. Or, the abandoned wooden buildings, collapsing and being reclaimed by the dirt along the highways.

Yet, in the next frame, Rosenkrantz’s focus falls on the majesty of a tree-dotted valley, untouched and thriving. And the next, thick plumes of powder from a snowstorm almost completely obscures a small cabin from view.

Along the road, the truth of man’s size within the vastness of the natural world becomes apparent.

As someone spending thousands of miles in a car, modes of transportation also appear to be close to Rosenkrantz’s heart. Many of his photos depict the old beaters on the curbs of small towns, rusty yet reliable. Another observes locals leaving their tin-walled river homes in dinky motor boats and paddling row boats. A plane rests on its pontoons atop a mirror-surfaced lake in another.

These modes of transportation are worth the reverence, regardless of their rust spots, or Macgyvered motors, or expired plates. Without these objects, humanity would have much more trouble gaining the road-tripper’s perspective on the scope of the world we live in.

Through “Small Town and Long Views,” Rosenkrantz idolizes the majesty of the natural world, the humanity within its borders, and the objects which give him the privilege to depict these perspectives and comparisons, in the first place.

Esquire Theater, 320 Ludlow Ave, Sept. 27-Feb. 28, FREE.

–Russell Hausfeld

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