“Travelogues: On the Road with Nathan Hoang, Sara Macel, and Natalie Slater” at Houston Center for Photography

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Tulsa, Oklahoma, Lewis & 11th – East
From the series The Mother Road Revisited
Natalie Slater
Photo: courtesy of the artist and vintage Image courtesy of Tulsa Library, Beryl Ford Collection

Whether one travels for a week or a year, homecoming is a bittersweet end to the possibilities of the open road. In the tradition of photographers Walker Evans, Robert Frank and Dorothea Lange, these three artists took to the road, camera in hand to document their journeys. For “Home,” Nathan Hoang crossed the country, selecting an iconic image for each state and presenting it alongside phrases describing what makes that state unique. For Texas, Hoang arranges “hurricane parties, sweet tea, Marfa lights, cowboy hats, Friday-night lights,” and other apt phrases into the shape of the state and pairs it with an image of a football stadium illuminated by stadium lights. What began as a work of art about Texas expanded when Hoang’s friends requested similar pieces about their home states, and the project grew to include all 50 states.

For her project, “May the Road Rise to Meet You,” Sara Macel accompanied her traveling-salesman father on trips across the country, photographing him on the highway and in motels and airports. Memorable images include his cowboy hat on the dashboard, his jacket draped over a motel-room chair, and his desk covered with lists, phone numbers, and unpaid bills. As they traveled to St. Louis, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Idaho Falls, and small Texas towns, Macel captured the loneliness of the road while expressing her wistfulness for a way of life that is quickly becoming obsolete. Meanwhile, the ubiquitous Route 66 takes center stage in “Mother Road Revisited” by Natalie Slater. She pairs some 100 historic photographs from the 1950s with her own photographs taken along the road that runs from Chicago to LA. Part of her process was to locate where the original image had been shot and then take her own photograph of the same spot. Slater combines the two images into a single frame, that reveals, with the click of a switch, the vintage scene with the new photograph laid over it.

Hoang’s work was inspired by nostalgia for Texas, whereas Macel pays homage to a man who sacrificed the comforts of home to support his family. Both shows serve as a reminder that home is an emotional space where intimate relationships are more important than physical shelter. Slater’s work, on the other hand, focuses on the historic highway that is both a metaphor for the freedom of the road and a symbol for all that has disappeared in the wake of progress.

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Matthew Kangas
Donna Tennant is a Houston-based art writer who writes reviews for various publications, including art ltd. and Visual Art Source. Other publications she has written for over the past 35 years include the Houston Chronicle, Southwest Art, Artlies, ARTnews, and the Houston Press. She has also written numerous catalogue essays. She has taught art history at University of Houston–Downtown and Lone Star College and is currently a writer and editor for the Houston Independent School District.