Lincoln Highway Photo Shoot Documents 'The America That Was Lost'

Jan 9, 2015

Photographer Doc Thiessen used generators to artificially light up the United States Yttrium building outside of Laramie.
Credit Doc Thiessen

Ghost towns may conjure images of old shoot-outs, tumble weed rolling down dusty streets. But there are also more modern ghost towns with less romantic stories. Laramie photographer Doc Thiessen is documenting some of the towns along the Lincoln Highway bypassed by Interstate 80.

Thiessen’s eye and lens are drawn to unusual subjects. He points his camera at the West’s lost places, from ghost towns to shuttered industrial buildings. For one series, Thiessen illuminated the crumbling Midwest Oil Refinery in Laramie, then layered photo on photo to create vivid images of contrasting light and shadow. “I’ve gone back into the buildings and these places that have been abandoned to attempt to bring back life into them by putting artificial light into them.”

Themes of abandonment and loss carry through into his new project. Thiessen is photographing forgotten towns along Wyoming’s old Lincoln Highway. “It was originally America’s Main Street,” he explains. “It joined the country. Populations small and big all depended on the highways like the Lincoln Highway, which was the first one to cross the country completely. The whole thing about these highways was connecting people and places.”

But starting in the 1950’s, traffic moved to the new, faster Interstate 80. And while it closely follows much of the original Lincoln Highway, it bypasses many of the towns America’s Main Street once passed through. “We just want to get from point A to point B. We don’t care about the stuff in between,” laments Thiessen.

We're losing the connectedness of the country. We're losing the connection between people to people. I guess that's my point to this whole thing. I'm trying to recapture the America that was lost.

To photograph “the stuff in between,” little towns like Bosler or Table Rock, Thiessen shoots from a platform on top of his truck and mounts the camera even higher, on a tripod. So the view is from as high as 12 feet off the ground. And for the viewer, that means “seeing things from a slightly different perspective than just eye level.”

New perspectives are a recurring theme in Thiessen’s work. He doesn’t let documentary photography limit his ability to offer a fresh view of the familiar…or even the forgotten. “We’re losing the connectedness of the country. We’re losing the connection between people to people. I guess that’s my point to this whole thing. I’m trying to recapture the America that was lost.”

Eventually, he’s planning on displaying photo exhibits in the Lincoln Highway towns big enough to support them, and he hopes to produce a book. And while it’s not likely Doc Thiessen can save the America that was lost, through his photos, it will at least be preserved.