Larry Niehues’ pursuit of ‘Old America’

At the age of 22, Larry Niehues packed his bags and headed to Mcallen in south Texas. Following the footsteps of Bruce Davidson, William Eggleston and Dennis Hopper, he embarked on his own great American road trip. On his way down to California, camera in hand, he candidly captures the American landscape…

Where did your passion for America and the tradition of the ‘roadtrip’ come from?

My passion for America came from my parents and their culture. They loved to travel in the US and wear vintage clothes they bought there. The decoration in our family house has always been atypical: full of vinyls, books and articles found in old American towns. Music and motorcycles are my passions and led me into a deeper interest in American culture. I moved to the USA in 2010 to Mcallen, TX where I have a friend who lives there. He helped me to set things up over here. I bought my Ford Ranger truck in Mcallen and then drove to California, that was my first road trip in America.

What was the goal photographically?

My goal with my photography is to document and show people that ‘old America’ still surrounds us. Shooting real life, carrying my Nikon F3 camera with me all the time, I wanted to capture the American landscape and its characters. I’m not only shooting randomly things or people around, I have to get a feel for the place, its character, an old sign… Some situation that reminds me of America in the 50’s through 80’s… These are now less and less common, more and more precious. So it is so important to me to capture these moments while I still can.

What does ‘Old America’ mean to you?

The one that I’ve heard of in family stories and that I saw in movies, read in books and the music I listen to. I figured that a lot of people did not catch this time and forget this era because its disappearing. The whole atmosphere is appealing to me.

It’s not only old cars and old signs; it’s the attitudes, style and charisma of the characters… The pride of one man fixing his vintage car, the smile of an old man ordering his favorite food in the same cafe he has come to for 50 years… They all have a history and when I get a chance, I love to stop and hear their story. It is fascinating and definitively beyond superficiality.

Tell us about travelling on the road.

When I plan to go further than California, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, I try to travel with a friend but I’m mostly by myself. I go through amazing small and lost towns and meet incredible local characters.

Below are some anecdotes of people I met with…

Staying one night in the middle of the desert in an abandoned mining town of Gold Point, Nevada (population 8) and sharing stories with Walt, a local who lives there.

Spending truly special time with the Native American community during a Pow Wow dance ceremony in Northern California.

Discovering and learning the Ranch lifestyle with a cowboy named John for a few days on his ranch in Taos, New Mexico where he raises bison.

Spending truly special time with the Native American community during a Pow Wow dance ceremony in Northern California.

Staying in Nashville, Tennessee, following the adventures of The Black Tibetans (a R’n’R band from LA).

Did anything go ‘wrong’?

Yeah… things happen! The wheel of your car staying stuck in the desert sand 50 miles off road, a gas leak in a 100 years old motel in a lost town in Nebraska, a redneck who threatens to kill you if you took a pic of him… But all of that is part of the fun!!!

Images by Larry Niehues, interview by Emilia at AHB