John Margolies's Roadside Photos Are Automotive Americana At Its Best

Photo: John Margolies, Library of Congress

John Margolies spent more than forty years travelling American roads and cataloguing the way cars shaped America's built environment. Now, with his photos in the hands of the Library of Congress, you can have a look at what he found.

Photo: John Margolies, Library of Congress

Petrol stations, car washes, motels and drive-in restaurants feature heavily, demonstrating how roadside architecture had come to serve a supporting role to the stream of vehicles zooming past these structures. Margolies’s colour photos demonstrate how the bright paint schemes, neon lighting and wild signage of roadside buildings came to be designed for maximum impact on passing drivers, enticing them in for a cold drink, a refuel, or a good night’s rest.

Photo: John Margolies, Library of Congress

According to the Library of Congress blurb, Margolies took these photos as part of an attempt the capture the “vernacular architecture” of the American roadside, which he considered to be threatened by modern architectural trends. Margolies’s efforts were considered an important step in cultivating a Postmodern approach towards architecture and he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 1978 in recognition of his contributions.

Photo: John Margolies, Library of Congress

The photos are simple, keeping the subjects centred and the colours intentionally saturated. Margolies, whose background was more in architecture than photography, took these photos with a basic Canon camera, 50 mm lens, and ASA 25 mm film.

Photo: John Margolies, Library of Congress

The Library of Congress digitised these photos in 2016 after Margolies passed at 76. I’ve collected a few of my favourites here, but the entire collection is available for view on the Library of Congress’s Flickr account here.

Trending Stories Right Now