Heidi: How did this project start, and why?
Ethan: After being housebound for months, we and another family — along with much of the country — decided to take a summer road trip. We rented an RV, packed it to the gills (my camera bags lived in the shower) and headed out with few reservations and a loose 4,500-mile route through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Utah.
The project started on Day 2 of the trip. Before that morning, I didn’t know what I’d be seeing or how meaningful it might be. Waking up in a small town in Nevada, which was only a brief stop on the way to Idaho, I realized that we’d be seeing some special places and moments, both on and off the beaten path. And as I started looking at everything not just as a traveler but in a more studied, photographic way, I started seeing vignettes and juxtapositions that struck me. There’s a lot out there, especially in the areas of the country that haven’t been heavily commercialized.
What struck you about this personal project and why were you proud of it?
I was itching to shoot something personal and meaningful. It’s always important to shoot personal work, but this summer it felt especially rewarding to be creating fresh, self-guided work. I was doing something for myself. I was creating images I wanted to share. And I felt like a hunter — hyper aware, watching for those moments, shooting with intention, working the moments and juxtapositions until I had something. Hopefully they resonate with others.
I’m proud of everything I put out there. In this case, I felt like I was capturing not just what we saw, but what it was like. I also feel like I pushed myself in terms of visual mood and language. While my commercial work tends to have pop and contrast and clean color, here I worked with exposure and color grading and reduced contrast to bring out more mood, tone, emotional range. The restrained highlights and slightly chalky blacks also generate a painterly feel. I’m putting up a new fine-art website, and I’m going to launch it with selects from this project. But the series is a photo essay and should be seen as a whole.
What was it like traveling with your newborn?
It was the best. Moxie would babble and pant excitedly every time we strapped her to our chests and left the RV to see new places and people. Of course a nine-month-old takes work, and it certainly disrupted her sleep training. But whom you travel with is as important as where you travel to, and she was a sunny, funny travel companion.
Was your child a catalyst for this observation out the window?
I wouldn’t say she was a catalyst for the observation; more of a limiter, in a good way. Having a child with limited patience — in fact, two entire families with limited patience — forced me to look keenly, choose wisely and shoot selectively. I also shot 95 percent of the series on medium format (Leaf Credo 60 on an H4x), which is a slower, more deliberate way of working than 35mm. I love the big viewfinder and sensor, the aspect ratio, the color, the depth, everything about that setup.
What window did you photograph from?
Very little of the series was actually shot through a window. I was in and out of the RV all the time. As I thought about how to title the project, I wanted to convey not only that it emerged from a road trip, but that it offered a view of this country, a series of vignettes that show something about the U.S. American Window seems to carry that. There’s metaphor in a window. It’s a view, an opening, a portal through which lies something more. It offers a framed glimpse into what’s out there.
What do you hope Moxie would learn from these images?
Don’t judge; there are good people everywhere. Use asymmetry and imbalance in your compositions. Remember to include context. Stop and get that burger and fries. Shoot the odd moments and scenes that don’t really seem like photographs at first. Get out of the car and position yourself where you need to be. This country isn’t all one way or the other. Look deeply when you can. Think about what you’re seeing. Why is it that way? How did it get here? Look at things twice, even three times. Use your photography to illuminate. There’s beauty in things that aren’t beautiful.