23 November 2019

Photo Essay

Encounters with the absurd

A 12-year tribute to the great American road trip

For more than a decade, Scottish photographer Sandy Carson documented the great American road trip. The resulting essay, I’ve Always Been a Cowboy in My Heart, chronicles his fascination with the everyday.

“When I first moved here, I was always collecting and archiving pictures as memories,” Carson said. There was a common thread running through them, the photographer said.

“It is kind of my view of the States and travel. Even after 20-odd years, I still have wide eyes travelling around the States. There are so many uncanny juxtapositions that catch my eye.”

A stuffed black bear sits on a display log at a taxidermy store in Austin, Texas.

A truck is parked next to a manicured hedge shaped like a manatee in Bolinas, California.

A woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty takes a break to look at her phone on Tax Day in Austin, Texas.

A Texas-shaped breakfast waffle at a hotel in Grand Prairie, Texas.

A banana peel sits next to a yellow line by the train tracks in Newark, New Jersey.

A billboard announces a question from God in Fort Stockton, Texas.

A taxidermy lion and various game in a supermarket aisle in Twisp, Washington.

A stormtrooper lies on a lawn chair next to a pool in Austin, Texas.

A row of four trees in a line with one lazing against a wall in Seattle, Washington.

A woman tries on a wedding dress at a thrift store in Austin, Texas.

A gas station takes on a new meaning in Austin, Texas.

A woman clutches a fish purse at an art show in Austin, Texas.

A tipsy Alcoholics Anonymous sign in Austin, Texas.

A shirtless man with an artificial leg in Seattle, Washington.

A gas station tips over after major winds near Comstock in west Texas.

A cow next to a cow in Humboldt County, California.

A minivan in Salida, Colorado.

A selfie outside a Charlie Brown Christmas window at Macy’s in San Francisco, California.

A motel room in Edinburg, Texas.

A pig cools down on a hot summer’s day in Ennis, Texas.

A hand-drawn lost dog poster in Austin, Texas.

A hearse in Grand Prairie, Texas.

A cyclist takes a bathroom break under the watchful eye of a dinosaur in Port Orford, Oregon.

A woman dressed as a tree in Salida, Colorado.

A giant pair of Texas-sized cowboy boots at a mall in San Antonio, Texas.

An abandoned car with a sunshade printed with dollar bills in Austin, Texas.

A caravan parked into a fence in Austin, Texas.

A soda machine outside a church under lock and key in Austin, Texas.

A jeweller’s window in San Francisco, California, is smashed during riots sparked after the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

A dog making a Big Bird shadow next to an orange muscle car in Austin, Texas.

A family dog belonging to evacuees pokes its head out of a car window while smoke billows over a mountain during the Colorado wildfires.

A line of exercise bikes face the water on Vashon Island, Washington. 

Sandy Carson is a self-taught documentary and commercial art photographer, filmmaker, musician and cyclist, who grew up in Scotland and is now based in Austin, Texas. He dropped out of university to tour the UK and Europe playing in punk bands and making fanzines. After moving to the States in the 1990s to pursue cycling, he travelled the world for 20 years as a professional BMX rider, where he honed his skills a photographer. His work is an intersection of two careers that have been the recipient of numerous awards. His work is published and exhibited nationally and internationally. Sandy’s long-term photography projects and documentary works are represented by INSTITUTE.

All photographs by Sandy Carson/Institute