“The reason I began photographing these expanses at night came from a curiosity to see if I could capture that sense of lost time that occurs during these sprawling drives.” says South Dakota photographer Seth Harwood about his series Highway Hypnosis. “,,,I think that by blurring the scene just enough to obscure the finite details only helps the viewer to focus more on the relationship of color and light.” Raised the son of a repo man, Seth spent his youth playing in old, broken down vehicles that had been left behind. As such, he developed a particular fondness for this abandoned aspect of the highway culture throughout the American Midwest.
This fondness is clearly evident in Highway Hypnosis and he explores light trails made by vehicles on a highway but also blends the details just enough to make it into a project that is all about the relationship of color in the scene.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
Seth: Photography has been something I’ve found solace in practicing since my first time in the darkroom during high school. Over the years I revisited photography several times, and eventually I was fortunate enough to have a professor who inspired me to actually pursue my passion for photography. I now am working towards an MFA in Photography through Academy of Art University. My goal is to become an educator, utilizing my passion for photography as a means to inspire others to pursue what brings them happiness.
Phoblographer: What made you get into landscapes and long exposures?
Seth: I was born and raised in the American Midwest and that definitely has been a defining factor on what sort of subject matter I choose to represent and how I interact with it. Growing up out here comes with countless hours of driving along the two lane highways that stretch between horizons.
The reason I began photographing these expanses at night came from a curiosity to see if I could capture that sense of lost time that occurs during these sprawling drives. I am using long exposure to create this series, but I like to think that in doing so I am actually representing a compression of time that seems to happen while driving along these roads.
Phoblographer: So tell us about the creative inspiration behind Highway Hypnosis?
Seth: The title, Highway Hypnosis, is defined as the experience of entering a passive mental state while driving great distances where we still react to external factors, but have little recollection of the actual experience leading up to arriving at the destination. I began creating the photographs for Highway Hypnosis to see if I could visually represent that sensation. There are times where you blink and somehow fifty miles has gone by, and it’s that lack of awareness that I am interested in trying to further explore through this series.
Phoblographer: These images are all long exposures of cars going along highways. But when you were going through the shooting process, what made you choose these specific images to showcase in the project?
Seth: My workflow, with most of my projects really, is very intuitive, and that definitely applies to this series. I try to go out and shoot at least once a week to keep myself in good form, but I very seldom plan out locations or compositions.
While creating this series the process more or less involves immersing myself in this state that I am trying to convey. Some nights I’ll drive for hours before I find a scene that I feel is compatible. Most of the scenes that I’m representing here, I have experienced this sensation on first hand.
Phoblographer: How do you think composition plays a big part of this series?
Seth: This is a very form driven series. Shape, line, color are far more important compositional elements than the literal subject matter for this body of work. I use the form of the light trails, hues, and how I structure the images to create visual cohesion across the body of work. Then, by having a consistent compositional element such as the amber glow of the taillights to build that cohesion, I can be a bit more exploratory with compositional elements like form and perspective.
Phoblographer: What do you feel you’ve done with this project that makes these images really and truly yours? To that end, what do you do differently that other photographers may not?
Seth: I recognize that the taillights niche within photography is a very saturated market, but a vast majority of it seems to focus on urbanity. I feel like this rural counterpart is still very unexplored and that’s where I think my work stands out from the crowd. I’m embracing these desolate expansive landscapes, and using the interaction of the road with that landscape to create the forms within light paintings.
Then I also have begun to toy around with this process of not using a tripod. I lean against something rigid, and just handhold the camera. I haven’t really seen this avenue of extrusive tail light photography explored before and I am curious to see what else I can produce with this approach.
“This is a very form driven series. Shape, line, color are far more important compositional elements than the literal subject matter for this body of work.”
Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you used to do this project.
Seth: This project started out solely digital. I have a Pentax K3 that I cherish for its rugged qualities and outstanding weather resistance, both of which have been utilized in creating this series. As I grew more comfortable with the series I started working both on film and digitally.
For the film shots I use a Pentax 6×7, shooting on medium format film. It’s really intriguing to me how different of an atmpsohere the film photographs have from the digital shots, but I think they compliment each other nicely. Then I only ever carry one lens per camera with me, preferably something prime. I like the limitations that come with only having one lens, I think it helps me to hone my compositions. As for my other gear I like to keep it light. For a tripod I use a MeFoto Roadtrip that has served me very well, lightweight but very rigid. To carry all my gear I have a Incase DSLR Pro which also has outstanding weather resistance, plus is perfect for keeping all my gear safe while hiking out in the field.
Phoblographer: How do you think the use of light streaks and color really plays a big part of this series?
Seth: I feel like the way I’m interacting with color and light in Highway Hypnosis is reflective of how Uta Barth utilizes color and light in her Ground and Field series. The relationship of line, shape, and color, are the key elements in this series, more so than the actual subject matter of the scene. This is one of the reasons I started pulling the camera off of the tripod.
I think that by blurring the scene just enough to obscure the finite details only helps the viewer to focus more on the relationship of color and light. I’m trying to recreate that sensation of seemingly loosing consciousness with driving for extended durations; and I believe that even miniscule details, such as the curvilinear qualities of a line and how intense of a glow it has can be crucial to simulating that lack of awareness.