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Author of Lost America
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Photo Safari: 4,360 Miles in Five Days by Troy Paiva

Troy Paiva
Troy Paiva
is a commercial artist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. For his entire adult life he has been an abandonment explorer and back-roads wanderer, especially at night. Sneaking around in junkyards and dead roadside towns in the middle of the night, he was doing urban exploration years before the term even existed. Troy is the author of the critically-acclaimed Lost America which features over 145 color and black-and-white photographs. On April 27th, 2007, Troy launched a new version of his Lost America Web site with hundreds of evocative photos from around the west.

Day One - Motel Kalifornia

At last, the mega road-trip I've been waiting for. The run begins southbound from my suburban San Francisco Bay Area home on a warm Saturday morning then due east at Bakersfield. Alone, I am chasing the ghosts of the American road, wandering the western highways for as long as I can, covering as many miles as I can. Before I know it, I've driven 975 miles in 14 hours. I don't remember being passed by many cars, but one sticks in my mind. While crossing the straight, flat stretches of eastern Arizona, I see a big white American sedan closing in my mirror, out of the setting sun. It passes at a slow walk, its cruise control on 88 and I see that it's an official New Mexico State vehicle of some sort. The driver wrestles with an unruly newspaper, folding and refolding it, pinching the creases meticulously like he's sitting at the breakfast table. Eventually setting the sports on the steering wheel, he picks up speed and motors away. I press play on Booker T. and the M.G.'s "Melting Pot" again, and the psychedelic organ soul pulses me rhythmically along into the dusk.

Roy's Cafe
Troy Paiva
Roy's Cafe in Amboy, California

At least three times a year, I make an epic road trip. Two thousand miles in three days is not at all unusual. When I was a teenager my friends and I would take off in our beater junk cars, storming across the Southwest deserts. Just exploring for the fun of it. Driving in shifts, round the clock, we'd cover thousands of miles in a couple of high-speed days, the vast expanses of desert compressed into scale models. I gladly volunteered for the late-night driving shifts and watched with fascination as countless abandoned buildings and towns unreeled in the windshield. To my friends, it was just an off-the-wall thing to do, but for me, the lure of the desert night began to take on mythical proportions. Once I picked up night photography in the late 1980s, these surreal safaris blossomed into new meaning and purpose. I started to document the decaying American roadside with long time exposures lit by the full moon. It wasn't long before I added colored lighting during the exposure, sculpting the shadows like a stage set (none of this work is digitally manipulated, it's all done "in camera" at the scene). Now I do the trips alone, tossing the sleeping bag and tripods in the back of my crusty Subaru.

The day is a blur of concrete, sage and green Interstate signs with only one short meal stop and a series of quick gas and pee breaks. A long day, but it's a familiar and satisfying pace. I ramble into Gallup long after dark, eyes watering and neck stiff. Both my head and the sky are too cloudy to shoot- so I randomly pick a cheap motel room and pack my gear in for the night. Ironically, tonights' cable movie is Kalifornia. A strange portent for the drive ahead? I fall asleep as Brad Pitt murders the proprietor of Roy's Cafe in Amboy. A few years ago, the current owner of Roy's chased me off with a shotgun as I finished my first exposure of the famous sign.

Day Two - Don't Mess with Texas>

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