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Capturing an American Road Trip
Luke Byrne and Ryan Kenny

Capturing the all-American road trip

Australian photographers Luke Byrne and Ryan Kenny share exclusive images from their stateside joy rides in a convertible Mustang

TextJoseph HoPhotographyLuke ByrnePhotographyRyan Kenny

"America is a lot weirder than I ever expected," confesses photographer Ryan Kenny, as he recounts his most recent road trip experience. Together with creative partner Luke Byrne, the Australian duo insist on driving between stateside commissions in the hopes of a rawer travel experience and an opportunity to find their favourite Hollywood film sets. This time around, a chance car rental upgrade gifted them a red convertible Mustang and LA model Staz Lindes (whom Kenny befriended on a job at last year’s Coachella) was up for the ride. A loosely planned journey through California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and New York quickly turned into one dreamy adventure.

Luke Byrne: Being on the road, sometimes you forget about the incredible things you’re seeing and doing. When Staz got real emotional at the Grand Canyon, it reminded us that our trips are truly worthwhile. Initially when she couldn’t stop crying, we thought we’d done something wrong.

“Ryan thought he might have offended her by talking about his dick too much, but it was just the location’s sheer scale and beauty that overwhelmed. I feel that no photo will ever do this place justice”

This dive bar was on the outskirts of San Fran and full of freak locals. Admittedly, we walked in because of the $1 PBR sign displayed out the front, but we honestly had no idea what we were in for, which was the best part about it. We thought the hard trance they were playing didn’t seem right, we ended up talking Sally the bartender into putting on some classic rock. A few beers later we were dancing on the bar and entertaining the obliging patrons. They thought we were crazy and loved it.

Ryan Kenny: We had just turned up to a park that overlooks the Golden Gate bridge and realised we couldn’t get in anywhere because of the government shutdown. Staz and Luke were off freaking out and I just decided to walk off for a cigarette. For some reason I knew everything would be fine and I may have been off in my own little world, but seeing the word ash as I was smoking felt enlightening. 

Luke Byrne: We stayed at this motel in Santa Cruz because it looks over the boardwalk featured in the cult 80s flick, Lost Boys. I grew up loving that film and seeing it in the flesh made me so excited that I had to send everyone an email about it the next day. Growing up in a small country town in South Australia and seeing the skaters, surfers, long blonde hair and classic beach vibe was like living out a childhood fantasy.

Ryan Kenny: When Staz wanted to sit in the back it was usually because she’d had enough of us. We talk a lot of shit and she was definitely not happy with us here, but I didn’t care. I was so obsessed with her at this stage and despite her temperament, saw an opportunity to capture the perfect shot. Infatuation in photographs is what I live for and this for me is the perfect example.

Luke Byrne: Destroying or soaking your film in lemon juice, wine or urine will give the photos a psychedelic effect. In this case, I used lemon juice and thought the technique would be perfect for our visit to the Joshua Tree. I wanted to capture the experience of opening up our minds on film and create something that was considered and as contextually appropriate as possible.

Ryan Kenny: The meal portions in America are massive. The first time I ate at a diner, I was so hungry I ordered five entrees without realising they would be what I consider main meal sizes. I was so overwhelmed and felt terrible about wasting food. It’s unbelievable when you’re eating this stuff everyday, you realise how bad it is for your body. I’ve never put on weight anywhere, but fuck, every meal we had on the road was so big and heavy.

Luke Byrne: Walking past this car in Monument Valley, it seemed as though the couple were travelling around with their life’s belongings. As soon as I saw them, I knew I had to get the shot but only had a 30-second window to capture it and had no idea what the result would be like until I developed the film. It’s probably one of my favourite photos from the journey and offers my idea of the modern day cowboy. Drifting along, it was as though they had no grand purpose and I just wish that I knocked on their door to find out where the hell they were going.”

Ryan Kenny: I’m obsessed with America’s cacti. I even bought a few books on the subject. Driving along Monte Rio felt like being on the edge of the world. We were on our way back to Petaluma, it was getting dark and we and had no cell reception or sense of direction, but it didn’t matter because the spot just felt so powerful. Each time I was in the back of a car I often tried to capture images that included the window, for here we were, just three punk kids driving around in a red fucking mustang convertible.

Luke Byrne: I knew of Aspen because of Dumb and Dumber and wanted to drive up there for kicks. Along the way we spoke to some locals who recommended we take this alternative route and this is what we saw as we headed up towards the mountains. It was the first time I’ve seen snow and I was absolutely blown away.

Driving through the Sequoia National forest, this area reminded me of those cheesy 70s landscape prints that were once so popular. Moments later, we were caught in the middle of a blizzard and when I walked outside I quickly changed my mind and instead thought that it was more like Narnia from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Ryan Kenny: On my first night in New York, the guys I was staying with put a few drops of acid in my beer and we ended up partying for days. By the end of it, we were desperate to get out of town and decided to drive upstate. I fell asleep in the middle of the city and woke up to this oasis in Phoenicia. The diner was my salvation and the setting felt like it was straight out of Twin Peaks.

On my second last day in America, Staz and her friend Zoe took me out in her Volvo to go sightseeing around LA. She drives like a maniac and they were taking me on what seemed to be a TMZ tour. It was fun but they weren’t really interested and would just drop me off at places where I could take photos and wait in the car. Although I did get some good shots on that particular day, this photo captures the moment in one go.