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Gallery Staff Favorites | Steve Fitch: American Motel Signs 1980–2018

photo-eye Gallery Gallery Staff Favorites | Steve Fitch: American Motel Signs 1980–2018 photo-eye Gallery
This week, for the Gallery Favorites segment of our blog, we highlight images from the exhibition Steve Fitch: American Motel Signs 1980–2018 that personally resonate with each of us.

The online exhibition Steve Fitch: American Motel Signs 1980–2018, corresponds with Fitch's recent photobook American Motel Signs II 1980–2018, published by The Velvet Cell. In this book, Fitch documents the changing landscape, capturing the bright neon motel signs littered across long highway expanses throughout the West.

This week, for the Gallery Favorites segment of our blog, we highlight images from the exhibition that personally resonate with each of us. Take a look below! And please reach out if you have questions about one of the featured prints.
 — Anne & Patricia

Anne Kelly

Steve Fitch started collecting as a child. His collections included everything from coins, rocks, insects, and stamps to old gas pump handles. In 1971, Fitch began exploring the “blue highway” with his camera — collecting images of old motel signs and roadside attractions. Fitch views old motel signs as a form of Folk Art — evidence of the pre-franchised highway. No two motel signs are the same and were typically fabricated by skilled local craftsmen.  

While each motel sign that Fitch photographed is unique, because he is exploring typology there is also an implied similarity. Though Fitch’s motel sign photographs do make wonderful groupings they also function as successful singular images. Now, when collecting something that has similar characteristics such as coins, stamps, or vintage motel signs, how do you choose?  I think this is where it becomes personal. Fitch believes that there is an interplay between memory & photography. I agree and believe that has always been a part of my attraction to photography.
Anne Kelly, Gallery Director
505-988-5152 x 121 

Mesa, Arizona, December, 1980 

My first selection is Mesa, Arizona, December 1980. First of all, I enjoy the composition and color palette in this image. I have never been to Mesa, Arizona, but we do have roadrunners in New Mexico. Having discovered that they exist (outside of cartoons) when I moved here over 20 years ago I have a fondness for them.

Hackberry, Arizona, 2002

Steve Fitch, Hackberry, Arizona, 2002, archival pigment print, 15 x 15 inches, $650

My second selection is Hackberry, Arizona, 2002. This is yet another location that I have never visited, yet it feels familiar. In this image, it appears that the motel is long gone and has been survived by a bush. The original sign remains as a monument of what was. The neon has been removed by man or nature leaving behind a beautiful blue/green patina.  

Patricia Martin

The American landscape has been a source of inspiration for generations of artists, but the work by Steve Fitch stands out from conventional representations of the subject. Where photographers like Ansel Adams have sought the sublime in the majesty of the American landscape, and survey photographers have documented its notable and curious geological formations, Fitch's work depicts the American West as a drive-through scenery instead of an enchanting wilderness. His images of motel signs, capture the distinctive sights that have defined roadside America. 
Patricia Martin, Gallery Assistant
505-988-5152 x 116

Cherokee, North Carolina, August 1982


Some motel signs are more interesting to look at in broad daylight. In Cherokee, North Carolina, August, 1982, several signs of mismatched size pile up to form one single sign in mustard colors. Sitting at the very top, is the silhouette of a legless Native American princess. What I enjoy about this image is how it captured the ingenuousness of the setting the aimless arrow-shaped sign pointing at a light post and the uninviting fenced pool the sign advertises. 

Albuquerque, New Mexico, March, 1980

What stands out for me in Alburquerque, New Mexico, March, 1980 is the color palette, the perfect color match of the cactus green on the "Cactus Motel" sign. I also appreciate how the entire sign, including the post that supports it, mimics the shape of a saguaro cactus, the archetypal symbol of the American Wild West.

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All prices listed were current at the time this post was published.

For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Director Anne Kelly or Gallery Assistant Patricia Martin, or you may also call us at 505-988-5152 x202