MY NAME IS NORA
Recently I've noticed that the highways that I traveled early in my life are disappearing at an alarming rate. The small towns are losing their population to the urban suburbs of the big cities. Nationally branded motel chains and restaurants on Interstate freeways have replaced the one-of-the-kind mom and pop motels and cafes that used to dot the side of the state highways. We drive past towns, not through them. I am dedicated to travel as much as I can on the small road and through the small towns and document this attrition. I hope you enjoy my photos. I know that I sure love taking them. Traveling the side-roads through tiny towns has given me a new and deep appreciation for my own mortality. I'm not saying progress is bad; it's inevitable. But I feel a deep need to document it all so that it isn't forgotten like so many signs that I've been lucky enough to photograph before being torn down.
And, oh yeah . . . . if you feel like you'd like to help me out, feel free to buy a couple of prints or maybe throw a little gas money my way by clicking on the "DONATE" button. It would be greatly appreciated.
I have been shooting vintage neon signs just about as long as I have been a photographer (nearly forty years). I've always been fascinated by the old motel, cafe, liquor store signs that lined our highways and light up our towns and cities. I think I started my love affair with them in the late 1960s when my family and I would go on vacation! I can remember sitting in the back of my parent's green Pontiac Bonnyville Station Wagon (no seatbelts) watching the signs pass by us on our journeys. Every sign was unique; not only in its name and design, but also in their approach to lure
What This Site is All About
Me, taking a self-portrait while on the road in Dallas, Texas
Horseshoe Motel - Phoenix, AZ - 1985 (GONE)
Trails End Motel - Phoenix, AZ - 1985 (GONE)
How This All Got Started . . .
you off the road. My imagination would soar when we'd pull into a town and I could read the brightly lit, colorful signs' lighting up the night's sky with names like the Aztec Motel (Albuquerque); The Big Texan Motel (Amarillo), the Red Caboose Motel, (Pennsylvania) or the fabulous Wig-Wam Motel in Springfield, Illinois.
Sometimes the signs would be in the design of a covered wagon, or a large bunny, a Pink Fairy, or an Indian Chief with a multi-colored headdress. One had a huge blue swallow hovering above the office, another had a giant sombrero. Whatever their names and/or designs were, they always made me realize that I was most definitely somewhere else - and being somewhere else always seemed better! My summer vacations were my passport to exotic strange lands.
But as I grew older, so did the signs. By the time I was in my twenties they had already begun to show their age. Many of their neon tubes were broken, or their paint was fading and chipping away. Even worse, the signs were beginning to disappear. One of my local favorites, The Trails End Motel, featured a painted portrait of a broken down Native American Warrior slumping atop his war weary horse in obvious defeat. I absolutely loved that sign growing up. By the mid-1980s the Trails End had turned into a hangout for drug dealers and prostitutes and I found out that the city bought the property and was going to raze everything, including the sign. I immediately rushed out and drove to its location and snapped some photos. Unfortunately the only film in my camera was black & white, but I was still grateful that I had the opportunity to capture its last days on this earth. Within a week the whole thing was gone. For that beautiful sign it was, pardon the pun, truly the end of the trail. It was now an empty lot that would eventually become a Circle K.
This led me to begin chronicling the other great neon signs that I loved. Wherever I traveled in the country I would seek out the local "Motel Row", which more than often was in a marginalized part of town. My job as a photographer gave me the opportunity to travel all over the US for assignments. Wherever I was, I would get up extra early and head out to find the local signs. Many hotel concierges would give me a startled face when I asked them, "So where are all the old, rundown motels in town?" I'm sure they thought I was in search of something more nefarious than a shot of a neon sign with a horseshoe on top and a woman in a bathing suit diving through it!