One of my favorite photographs of a road is by photographer Nicholas deVore III. Nicholas is one of those rare people of approximately my age or older who grew up in Aspen, Colorado, instead of immigrating there. That's where I met him, when I was researching my book Whiteout. Nicholas was extraordinarily smart and creative and funny and alarming. President of his class at Aspen High, he spent many years as a photographer for National Geographic, Fortune, Life, and Geo. He took his beautiful wife, Karinjo, and their son and daughter on one assignment through New England. They stopped in their red van to visit at my mother-in-law's country house in New Hampshire, where his toddler son, Nicky, promptly started swinging an antique toy elephant in the air by its tail. The tail soon separated from the elephant, spewing ancient sawdust around the room. Instead of being embarrassed (I never saw him embarrassed), Nicholas laughed and laughed. "Son," he tried to say with a grave tone, "how many times have I told you, never swing an elephant by its tail." Moments later, he complimented Margot, then my girlfriend, now my wife, on her "nice, round bottom."
Nicholas and I traveled together on a couple of great assignments. One was a journey from Toronto to Hawaii to Australia aboard a 747 cargo jet full of thoroughbred racehorses. Here we are in the cockpit (we did not actually fly the plane ourselves):
And here I am interviewing a wrangler:
And Nicholas and I were roommates on a trip to southern India. The occasion was a press tour organized by a company that hoped to promote mountain biking adventure tours; we rode from Mangalore to Bangalore with other writers and photographers. He liked to keep the bathtub full so our room would be more humid. He asked me to please keep the toilet seat down. Riding bikes one morning in Karnataka state, we found ourselves having to dodge giant Tarzan-sized vines that dangled over the shoulder from towering trees that lined the road. I was close behind Nicholas when the nearness of those vines became, apparently, irresistible: I saw him stand up on his pedals, grab a vine with both hands, and then hold on tight as he committed to the vine, his bicycle clattering away into the weeds at roads. His momentum carried him on a great arc across the shoulder and then back across the road, and back and forth, until he dropped off, delighted.
(According to this article on Wikipedia, "In 1972 DeVore caught the attention of Robert Gilka, the legendary photo director of National Geographic, with an amateur portfolio shot in the Galapagos Islands. Nicholas leapt from an Aspen chair lift to retrieve the editor’s dropped camera, and landed a career start as the Geographic’s youngest contributor.")
(As I understand it, the magazine began using him less following an incident in which he shot a pistol through the ceiling at a fancy party that he was photographing while on assignment.)
I have never met anybody remotely like Nicholas. His presence was quite kinetic, and so maybe it's not surprising that he seemed to understand intuitively that roads, though they sit still, are about motion. You can see how he captured that in this favorite photo of mine, below. I'm afraid there won't be more: Nicholas shot and killed himself in Jerome, Arizona, in 2003. There's a rumor that someone is writing his biography. I hope they finish soon. I'd like to read it.
photograph by Nicholas de Vore III, used by permission
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Ted Conover is the author of several books including Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing (winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize) and Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes. His writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, and National Geographic. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, he is Distinguished Writer-in-Residence in the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University. He lives in New York City.
Books mentioned in this post
Ted Conover is the author of The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today