The book is an elegant, large-format tome, appropriately sized for its ambitious scope. "One Million Miles" is a visual experience — as close as you might ever come to making the journey across the continent without setting out in your car.
In compiling "One Million Miles," his memoir of nine years on the road, Byron L. Dudley broke several molds.
Taking up long-haul truck-driving in his 30s was a radical departure from family tradition. Dudley's family — including his mother, a singer-dancer-choreographer, and grandfather, who played trumpet with Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton — were Manhattan musical stage performers.
It was also anathema for an African-American former University of Oregon track and field star to take up a profession stereotyped as red-neck, chain smoking and NoDoz popping.
But the more interesting aspect of Dudley's personal iconoclasm is that he pursued it with camera in hand. "One Million Miles" is a visual experience, as close as you might ever come to making the journey across the continent without setting out in your car. And even if you did drive it yourself, it's unlikely you would see what Dudley saw or capture it as he did.
The book is an elegant, large-format tome, appropriately sized for its ambitious scope. In it Dudley presents scenes so various and particular as to escape casual observation while giving a sense of the vastness of his subject, the sheer length of those highway miles. Dudley provides some thematic organization by way of chapters ("Clouds," "Low Light," "Oregon & The Gorge," etc.) as well as adding unedited excerpts from a journal he kept on the road. The entries run the gamut from his eyewitness description of an auto accident resulting in the driver's decapitation to the story of how he came to photograph a sheep slaughterhouse over a period of eight years, returning to it again and again until he understood what exactly he was trying to achieve artistically.
"One Million Miles" is also ambitious in that it is a self-conscious departure from what Dudley sees as the limits of format imposed by the notion of what fine art photography is: film rather than digital, produced in a photo lab rather than on an ink jet printer, black-and-white versus color. At the risk of being criticized for working both sides of the street, Dudley presents many images in what he calls bipartite format — a black-and-white rendering and a color print of the same image on facing pages.
How did it feel to pursue his artistic impulses while hauling freight 600-700 miles a day? The hardest part, Dudley said, was maintaining relationships and staying in shape.
He took out the passenger seat from his cab and installed a treadmill so he could ride his bike even when he had to stay with his load. He also admitted to a kind of emotional fatigue that resulted from seeing accidents on a daily basis — one minute ecstatic at the sight of a majestic landscape, the next minute stunned at the sight of a tragic fatality.
Did his fellow truckers accept him? "Sometimes trucker stereotypes are true," Dudley explained, "but they work long hours and do the best they can with limited social skills and not much experience in talking to others or expressing themselves. They accept you based on your actions." In a chapter titled "These Are My People," Dudley provides an intimate look at a largely camera-shy subculture, one of the few appearances of people in the book's more than 540 photos.
At 439 pages, "One Million Miles" is in a price range guaranteed to put up modest sales figures. But Dudley regards the hardcover collection of images as a portfolio, a way to get his work seen, rather than a way to produce steady income. Available through blurb.com, sales have been mostly to overseas clients, many Japanese. In part, Dudley attributes his book's popularity in Japan to a photo of "the Shaniko shoe tree," a dead tree at milepost 53 on US 97 festooned with pairs of shoes. Apparently, to many Japanese tourists visiting the Shakespeare Festival and Crater Lake, the shoe tree was a must-see Oregon attraction before it was cut down in 2008.
Having moved to Ashland in August of last year, Dudley hopes to find a venue for hanging his work and devote time to photographing landmarks and houses around town. He enjoys Ashland's cultural opportunities and a feeling of acceptance missing in big urban settings. And, not surprisingly, after a million miles behind the wheel, he enjoys walking.