Portrait of the road

Kim Reierson

Behind the camera, photographer Kim Reierson is fearless. Whether she’s crossing the powdery-white mountains of Wyoming or stopping for three cups of coffee in a truckstop, Reierson can extract years from moments, snapping photos of ordinary people whose faces tell the story of life on the road.

For her new book, Eighteen: A Look at the Culture That Moves Us, Reierson spent five years taking pictures of people and places that represent American truck driving. Her obsession with truck driving didn’t take root until after Sept. 11, when she drove from New York City to Santa Barbara, Calif., to meet her mom. During that trip and for the next five years, she hung out in truckstops and interviewed drivers, asking to take their portraits and see the cabs of their trucks. The resulting images are candid, poignant photos of exhausted drivers asleep in their cab beds, brash young truckers with huge belt buckles and cowboy hats, trucker families at home and on the road, and more.

“These men and women are who make this country run,” Reierson says. “I wanted to show that in an honest yet elegant way.”

A California girl transplanted to Bolivia to live with her mother’s family, and then back to California and finally to Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2000, Reierson is an artist with a heart for the American working class.

“I had always been into cars,” Reierson says, “but it dawned on me that my dad was a trucker. Subconsciously, I think I had been trying to tap into that.”

Reierson’s father spent most of his time on the road. She never knew him very well, and after her parents divorced when she was in college, she stopped speaking to him. He never knew she was working on the book.

“I guess I’m waiting for the right moment to send him a copy,” Reierson says. “I want to see the public reaction first.”

Reierson took Eighteen to the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., in March. The reaction from the New York City art community had been encouraging, but Reierson wanted to see what truck drivers thought about her photos.

“Their reaction seemed to be, ‘Wow, for the first time I’m seeing a book that shows exactly what it’s like for us,'” Reierson says. “They were impressed that someone was showing the way it really is.”

For two weeks, Reierson rode with truck driver Tim Young and recounted her experience in the only essay in the book, “Two Weeks With Tim.” After meeting Young in a truckstop and talking with him for an hour and a half, the photographer packed her bags and headed out on the road. After crossing 20 states together, the pair ended their trip at his family’s home in Alabama to say good-bye.

Reierson writes, “We said our good-byes the morning I left.