Isolation, detachment, and even hopelessness; these are some of the feelings that Lucas DeShazer tries to invoke in us through his photography. That might sound a bit harsh, but just by looking at his work, you can still discern a sense of beauty and charm to this kind of imagery. It consists of motels, gas stations and run-down casinos, murals in the middle of nowhere, and American suburbia; all without any people in sight. These create ghost towns – all very striking in their own way – that seem to belong to a parallel universe, one in which humans no longer inhabit the world.
Hi, Lucas! How did you get into photography?
When I was twelve or thirteen, I immersed myself into making 3D art. I was really into downloading elevation data online and using it to render landscape scenes I’d seen on family trips, as well as ‘gritty’ city scenes. I picked up a camera to start trying to take pictures of textures to use in my fake city. At one point, my father just asked why I wasn’t taking pictures of what I was modelling, and things kind of clicked. Why not just go take a picture in the first place?
Do you think you would have explored this type of photography if you had grown up in any other place than Oregon?
I don’t think it would be possible, honestly. It’s absolutely a product of my environment.
How do you scout places?
Occasionally I use Google Maps to identify areas I’d like to travel to – for example, a specific suburb under construction –, but mostly I just go with my gut and drive around.
To what lengths have you gone to take a picture? For example, what has been your longest car-ride?
In 2016, I spent a month on the road (sixteen thousand kilometres) mostly taking photographs, obviously with some leisure added in. Several times a year, I take long weekend trips (within the last month, to the Inland Empire in Southern California, and another to the southern Oregon coast) and try to do some marathon photography over two days.
Some of your pictures remind me of Hopper’s paintings and Philip-Lorca DiCorcia’s photographs, as you show isolated places. Also, your work reminds me of the cinematography from the movie It Follows and some of the scenery is reminiscent of Twin Peaks (maybe because of the proximity of the places that you both show, as you’re based in Oregon, and Twin Peaks was, in part, filmed in Washington). Would you say that you have these images in mind when shooting?
One of my first introductions to art photography (not just computer wallpaper landscape schlock) was DiCorcia’s Hustlers. I fell in love with his use of gas stations, fast food restaurants, motels, and supermarkets as backgrounds. I don’t have the same human connection he does, I suppose, and I gravitate towards more Hopper-esque scenes without a soul around. Hopper, though, seems to have a bit more hope in his paintings -– I was recently reading Art Can Help, the recent Robert Adams collection of essays, and his analysis of Sunday Morning has stuck with me. It’s an empty scene, but there’s almost a sense of anticipation – the sun rises further, the shops open, the people emerge from their homes, and life begins again. I want my images to be the opposite, an end: the day is over, the night has come, everyone has left, there’s nothing left to look forward to.
As stated, your images have a cinematic feel to them. What are some of your favourite movies? Aesthetic-wise, and just all-around films that are meaningful to you.
I’ve always been a fan of the Coen brothers, specifically Fargo and No Country for Old Men, although these days I don’t find myself having much patience for watching films.
You’re making me want to travel to Oregon, which places would you recommend me to visit there?
Just drive. Grab an atlas, leave Portland, skip the Willamette Valley, and go exploring. Every highway leads somewhere interesting.
Which is the city/village you’re most fond of visiting? Do you have any funny stories from your travels?
I always enjoy visiting Astoria, a small town at the mouth of the Columbia River. There’s a sense of finality there, seeing a massive river that feeds the region terminate into the ocean. Knowing that it’s near the site of the first by-land European contact with the indigenous people gives it sort of a special feeling, as if it’s one of the first places where things started going downhill.
I’ve seen that, a few years ago, you took a picture of a toilet filled up with nachos, which is pretty funny and irreverent, yet you don’t do visual gags like that anymore – although we could argue that some of the murals you show are quite amusing – why so?
I definitely spent too much time on the Internet arguing with people about food photography. I was pretty tired of the magazine aesthetic people were aping instead of trying to be interesting, so I made the stylised nachos and threw a copy of Bon Appétit at the base of it. Lately, I’ve been less into constructing scenes, partially because I can afford to travel more, and partially because I’m not constantly arguing pointlessly online; although that’s a theme I’m sure to return to at some point.
Which country/city in the world have you always wanted to go to and take pictures of?
Pictures, specifically, I don’t know. I try not to think too hard about what I’m photographing, I would rather let it come to me. Although lately, I’ve been thinking about Anchorage or Pittsburgh, both towns seem to have the kind of decay I look for. Beyond the United States, I’d love to go to Bangui in the Central African Republic. I learned about it one day when looking at maps of population density and trying to find places in the world that have a similar feeling to the American high desert.
What’s in store for Lucas DeShazer?
I’ve been playing with a lot of 35mm black and white after picking up a Contax T3, and I’m hoping to work it into a large enough body of work to show around. But for now, I’m just going to keep shooting as much as I can.