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May 17, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Ed Ailor's book includes photos of hidden beauties. Here is a sample of his work from Blue Highways: Revisited. PHOTOS COURTESY OF ED AILOR
Frenchman, Nev., once a town of four residents, was one of many stops along a 14,000-mile journey that author and photographer William Least Heat-Moon took in 1978. A collection of photographs and stories from this trip around the U.S. was published in Blue Highways.
Thirty years later, Frenchman doesn’t exist, and Ed Ailor III, 65, wanted to document that. Ailor created Blue Highways Revisited to redocument Heat-Moon’s work. Select photos from the book will be shown at PS: Gallery through June 30, with an exhibit reception on May 18. Ailor will be present to sign books and speak with gallery visitors.
Where: PS: Gallery
When: May 18, 6 - 8:30 p.m. (The entire exhibit will be open through June 30)
Ailor, who was already interested in photography, received Blue Highways as a Christmas present from his wife in 1982. After reading the book, he wanted to experience the journey for himself, but with two young children and a brand new ear, nose and throat practice, he simply didn’t have the time.
Once he retired in 2005, Ailor eagerly contacted Heat-Moon and began his own journey, retracing the trail and tracking down the people featured in the original book. Because both men are longtime Columbia residents, Ailor has worked with Heat-Moon to make Blue Highways Revisited represent Blue Highways in the best way possible.
Heat-Moon’s trip began in Columbia and spanned 38 states, circling the country along its edges. His Osage background led him to the idea of a clockwise trip around the U.S., and he chose not to include the middle of the country.
Although Ailor followed the same path and reached out to the same people, he had extra help from his son, Edgar Ailor IV. At the time of Ailor’s travels, his son lived in North Carolina. The weather was uncooperative when Ailor passed through that area, so he asked his son, who is now a professional photographer, to retake some of the photos. His son also helped him retake some photos in New York as well.
Once the trip was complete and Ailor reached as many former sources as possible, he assembled all the photos and stories into Blue Highways Revisited.
The book memorializes the original journey but also strikes comparisons between the original and the revision. Original photos are shown on the left page in black and white; the new ones are on the right side in color. Each page shows how some sites have changed through the years, while others have stood the test of time.
Some of the comparative images can be haunting. For example, an original of the Chealanders, a woman, Laurie, and her mother-in-law, standing in front of the only building in Frenchman, is printed next to the recent image of Laurie and her children standing in front of the barren land where the building once stood. Out of the 37 people who were featured in the original book, Ailor was able to contact 11 and include them in the new book.
Several photos in the book are natural scenes. They are crisp, and their clarity gives the illusion that the viewer is falling into the scene, almost as if he or she is standing alongside a dusty, desolate road in Texas or near a lighthouse overlooking crashing waves in Oregon.
For his current show at PS: Gallery, Ailor was given some authority when it came to selecting the images to display from his book. “It intermixes scenes from the beautiful scenery of 38 states with some smaller ones of the people, of some of the characters from the book,” he says.
The photos in Ailor’s book bring up questions about what the world will look like in the next 30 years. Perhaps a Blue Highways Revisited, Part II will be necessary.