Justine Kurland spent a decade traveling across America searching for things to photograph before her son Casper was born at home 12 years ago.
Becoming a mother didn’t stop her – and she took Casper on the road with her from the age of just three months in 2004, raising him in the back of her customized van (which he dubbed the ‘Mama Car’) until he turned six.
Her body of work from the five-year road trip are featured in a new book called Highway Kind.
The subject matter – American landscapes, railways and cars – were shaped by Casper’s interests and he appears in many of them, at different ages.
Photographer Justine Kurland took her son on the road with her from the age of three months after he was born during a home birth
Kurland and Casper (above) lived in a customized van until he turned six and outgrew it and she returned to a more conventional way of life
Kurland explained her decision to raise Casper on the road in an essay published in The New Yorker, saying: ‘I had built my work and my life on the road, and, now that I was a mother, I had no idea how to continue living as an artist.
‘But I figured things would work out somehow, if I could just get us out there.’
Recalling criss-crossing the country multiple times in search of subject matter with a young child in tow, Kurland added: ‘We climbed rocks in the desert and trees in the forest, built forts out of sticks, and spiced our mud pies with pine needles.’
She said the road cemented their ‘togetherness,’ but it came at a cost – sometimes people thought them homeless and other times, parents would pull their children away in playgrounds.
The subject matter – American landscapes, railways and cars – were shaped by Casper’s interests and he appears in many of them, at different ages
Kurland and her son lived out of a customized van (above) which he dubbed the 'Mama Car'
‘Casper thought it was normal – thought other mamas loaded sheet film at McDonald’s, other kids stacked rocks while their parents composed scenes.
‘On waking up from a nap in his car seat, he might ask me, “Where are we, Mama? Are we shopping for views?”’
But as Casper grew older, she wrote, he was less accommodating of being photographed.
The pictures were sometimes ‘compromises – shots taken when he fell asleep in the car, or couldn’t be convinced to leave the campground, or when holding his squirming body prevented me from finding other people to photograph,’ Kurland added.
The subject matter – landscapes, railways and cars – were shaped by Casper’s interests
Sometimes, he would refuse to be in photographs – or would grudgingly give permission.
Other times, he would place his hand in front of his face, or let his hair hide it.
In 2010, Kurland decided it was time to enrol Casper in school.
‘Where he had once wanted nothing more than to have me to himself, he was now beginning to outgrow the van.’
Kurland said that although living on the road with Casper cemented their togetherness, the pictures she took were sometimes 'compromises'
The photographs Kurland took during the five-year road trip with Casper are featured in a new book called Highway Kind
Now, she is based in New York but spends four months on the road for work – Casper accompanying her for two of them and staying home with his father for the rest.
She concludes: ‘Now the pictures I take focus literally on the stuff of the road: the cracked cement, the greasy underbellies of automobiles—the car as both symbol and fact in the American landscape.
‘It occurs to me that all of these pictures could be taken ten miles from where I live. And yet I continue to crisscross the country.’