Jul 5, 2022 - News

Arkansas photographer documents gritty side of Route 66

Photo courtesy of Jeff Sonnabend

Star of song, stage and screen, the neon-lit parts of Route 66 are the embodiment of 1950s-era Americana.

  • But the reality of the road in the 2020s is mostly busted, sun-bleached asphalt, barren trees and rundown main streets.

What's happening: Northwest Arkansas photographer Jeff Sonnabend turned his camera on some less publicized and gritty sights on the road and the people who live along it.

  • He'll launch a Kickstarter this summer to help publish a 200-page book, "The Route 66 Primer."
Photo courtesy Jeff Sonnabend

The big picture: Sonnabend told Axios his photographic philosophy is to show "real America to Americans so that people can — for better or worse — know the good, bad and everything in the middle."

  • The idea harkens back to the 1930s when Dorothea Lange and others photographed Great Depression-stricken farmers and migrants for public awareness.

Background: The germ of the book idea came when Sonnabend began documenting parts of the U.S. in photo journals on his website Interstate Magazine sometime around 2016.

Details: It took over a year to shoot the images for "The Route 66 Primer." Sonnabend, who resides in Bentonville, lived for short stints in a Sprinter van converted for his purpose.

  • "I'll drive to whatever town or whatever catches my eye," he said. "I stop, get out and just walk, walk, walk, walk."
  • Most of his images are taken with a wide-angle lens.

"I always try to be respectful of my subjects," he told Axios. "So what you see is accurate, truthful and a respectful representation of what's really there."

What to watch: You can see Sonnabend's work on Instagram and in Interstate Magazine.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Sonnabend
Photo courtesy of Jeff Sonnabend

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