I first came across the photography of Meryl Truett when I was searching online for information about Highway 17, and I came across her 2008 Blurb book, “Highway 17 The Road Less Traveled”. I was drawn to the images she included in the book, but loved in the text where she said “Highway 17 is a metaphor for the less hurried, more measured tempo of a time that is still with us yet quaintly marginalized.” I’ve said before that my motto for this Highway 17 website is ‘Slow Down and Drive” – so of course I agree with her description, and appreciate that she has chosen to capture images that reflect the uniqueness of the highway.
US 17: First, thank you for taking the time to talk with US 17 about your work, and thank you for sharing some of your photographs with us. Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
Meryl Truett: I grew up in the south and except for a few short stints away from the area, I have lived in SC, TN and more recently in GA. I am a fine art photographer and educator deeply obsessed with documentary photography and collecting images of the south. I have a degree in English literature as well as a Masters of Fine Art degree in photography. I teach photography at Savannah College of Art and Design.
US 17: Do you remember what the first photographs you took were – photographs where you thought “I like this” and decided that you wanted to pursue photography seriously? How has your photography evolved over the years?
Meryl Truett: I took a photography class in college and fell in love with the medium. I won first place in a university photography competition during that class. The award was 100 rolls of black and white film. That was worth a fortune to me at that time and really kickstarted my photography career. My early work was documentary black and white. My biggest influence was Henri Cartier Bresson and I spent a bit of time in the south of France shooting that hundred rolls of film.
US 17: I’ve been following your work now for a while and have really enjoyed your series of photographs referred to as “Vernacular Highway” – and of course I’ve especially enjoyed those focused on Highway 17. What has drawn you to photograph our less traveled roadways?
Meryl Truett: I started photographing Hwy. 17 when we first moved to Savannah from Nashville sixteen years ago. I spent my childhood traveling the Coastal highway from Charleston to North Myrtle Beach. As a child, I loved the tourist attractions and beautiful rural landscape. When I returned to this area, I became fascinated with the history of the highway and compelled to document what remains along this important landmark.
US 17: You’ve driven down much of Highway 17 (maybe all of it?) and I have to ask if: Do you have a favorite stretch (or stretches) of the Highway 17 – and what is it that you like about this section of the highway?
Meryl Truett: I have driven all of 17 from Winchester, VA to Punta Gorda, FL several times with the goal of photographing and documenting the character of representative segments of the highway. I love the stretch of road that runs between Savannah and Charleston. I have driven that particular part of the highway hundreds of times and still find new and interesting elements to photograph.
US 17: Would you like to share with us where we can see your work – do you have any exhibits scheduled in the near future?
Meryl Truett: It’s perfect timing that you wrote to me this summer. My main goal for 2014 is to publish a book of my Hwy. 17 photographs and plan pop up photography exhibits/book signings in cities and towns all along the road. (I have printed a Blurb version that is a rough draft for the final published edition.)
US 17: There seems to be an eclectic and vibrant group of southern photographers emerging – which I think is wonderful. Why do you think this is happening now?
Meryl Truett: The south has long been known for its writers, artists and photographers. Many photographers were drawn to work in the south after the images from the Farm Security Administration became well known. Southern photographers William Eggleston and William Christenberry drew acclaim for their color work that documented a personal vision. Black and white photographers such as Debbie Fleming Caffery and Sally Mann have long been know for their fine art work.
Recently an emerging group of southern photographers has taken up the torch of southern documentary and fine art work. Social media and the connectivity of the internet have allowed these photographers to find each other and be found by critics and pundits from online magazines and the blogoshpere. Exhibitions and competitions such as SlowExposures in Zebulon, GA and Atlanta Celebrates Photography have provided a platform for southern photographers as well as the uptick in acquisitions of photography by southern museums and collectors.
Thank you Meryl, for telling us a bit about yourself and sharing your photographs of Highway 17 with us. I look forward to the publication of your book focused on these images – please keep us posted on its release and your travel schedule. I, for one, will be standing in line waiting for you to sign my copy!