Photo book efforts

I’m well aware that I haven’t posted any fresh news for over six months. Some part of that has been taken up with the work (and learning curve) needed to prepare a 90 image booklet of frame grab samples to use as an aid in the presentation of ‘the Road Dreams archive’ to publishers and museums – a wider audience than the film diary in film form alone. As soon as I can prepare some decent pack shots, I’ll hope to provide examples of how this looks.


This development has grown out of a correspondence I’ve had with Martin Barnes, Senior Curator of Photographs at the V&A in London. Martin has pointed out that there is a degree of convergence – the blurring of the lines between filmmaking and photography – in my work and I’ve since spent time following through on the observation. I’m quite intrigued by the result – there do seem to be a range of still images available in the film diary – and a take up of this approach in book or exhibition form might usefully lead to a widening of the public profile for the archive. (Including the European footage there’s 101 hours of it, much of which has never seen the light of public day.) As always with a self-funded project, if it opens up the possibility of income then it goes to the top of the priority list. So I’m afraid that the completion date for Codachrome – a time of road dreams is as elusive as ever. One almost advantage of having devoted 41 years of my life (so far) to the project is that delays of this nature seem more like business as usual, rather than an actual set back.



So for the moment, the main effort will have to go into the book proposal. I’ve included the text of Martin’s letter of appraisal in this post as it does serve as a reminder that there is a special quality to the Road Dreams archive. For those of you who have continued to express a supportive interest over the expanding tally of years, it might help reinforce that you aren’t so wide of the mark. (For any readers new to this blog, I would recommend a perusal of the Comments Section. There’s some good writing on display.)


And that’s it for the present, though I have to acknowledge, at 68, it sometimes feels as if this same present might well continue to stretch endlessly away across the Great Plains, past direction signs that only ever advise ‘Keep On Keeping On’.
None, as yet, point to the Delectable Mountains, though a degree of optimism still rides along. It seems quite obvious that the Road Dreams diary is a special record of times gone by.



Elliott Bristow’s Road Dreams: a personal recommendation

Driving across America from 1968 until 1982, Elliott Bristow captured on film some of the most poignant and uplifting imagery I have seen. His travels gave him the opportunity to live the kind of life on the road that I could only ever dream about. Much of the America that Elliott recorded has long since vanished. Luckily, his archive of Super 8 film survives, not only as a fascinating historical document but perhaps more importantly, in his original edit of highlights and recent ‘frame grabs’, as a creative and artistic statement of rare beauty and heartfelt vision.
I encountered Elliott’s Road Dreams when it was first screened as a 6×30′ series on UK Channel 4 Television in 1989. The montage of imagery was set appropriately to the music of Leo Kottke, Pat Metheny and others, and interspersed with quotes from Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. Glistening highways, trucks, railroads, red barns in expansive landscapes, gas stations, freak weather and much more all flashed by on the screen in one man’s mesmerising visual diary. As well as life on the road, there were tender moments showing the individuals he got to know on the way; intimate expressions on the faces of people I had never met, but felt somehow that I knew. This montage of Americana was balanced by Elliott’s own personal insights, spoken in his lilting West Country accent, in which he shows his gift of keeping good humour, distilling the essence of profound experience, and retaining enough mystery to keep us guessing.

I later realised that Elliott’s interpretation of American life for me prefigured the photographs of Robert Frank, Stephen Shore and William Eggleston; no doubt like many British teenagers of my generation I have been more influenced by Elliott’s Road Dreams, and they have sunk further into my consciousness, than anything that I have subsequently come to appreciate by the recognised masters of photography in the same genre.




Despite the originating medium of Super 8 film, Elliott’s images linger in the memory with the persistence and significance of stills: I suppose this is because his approach hovers between the aesthetics of the moving image and still photography, as a kind of ‘moving still’. His work contains not exactly a sense of nostalgia, more a feeling of reverie, as if he looked through the viewfinder at the time always conscious of the poignancy these vanished days would evoke in the future. As Elliott has noted, he learned to ‘look at the present as if it were a memory’.




So it is with delight that I recently discovered Elliott’s work via his web site. It is largely through personal enthusiasm that this note of recommendation has been written, but I could not resist making the links between my professinal position and my private interest when inviting Elliott to come to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London to give a talk about his work and to show screenings of it at Flash Friday Late, an evening programme of events dedicated to photography on May 29th 2009.
Meeting him then has encouraged me to endorse his efforts to make his important archive accessible in book form as a series of evocative and well chosen ‘frame grabs’. The quality of still images enlarged from Super 8 film will of course never rival that made from large format or more conventional still film. However, the correct treatment of design and layout could highlight and enhance the ephemeral nature of this epistolary set of film strips, embracing the graininess and nostalgic colour of Kodachrome. And there are other possibilities to promote his work, both as live screenings, printed and exhibited frame grabs, and perhaps a book/DVD package.
I envisage that there is a significant market for such a publishing venture of Elliott’s work, as it bridges an audience for film, photography and social history. It would appeal also to anyone who is open to benefit from his enriching and life-affirming sensibility.

Martin Barnes, Senior Curator of Photographs
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
August 4th 2009



12 Responses to “Photo book efforts”

  1. David Litchfield says:

    Thanks for the update, Elliott. I was getting worried after such a long time with no updates.

    I really enjoyed the piece by Martin Barnes. Deserved warm comments for this most worthy of projects. His mention of live screenings is tantalising. What a treat it would be to be at a modern day event such as those you did whilst in the USA all those years ago.

    Keep plugging away, Elliott. We’re all willing you on.


  2. Jonathan says:

    Well, you must have been dealing with negative waves if a talk at the V&A came and went without mentioning it on your blog.
    Your work is better than the ‘famous’ photogs that Martin mentions in his appraisal, in at least one important way: it is less contrived. And that relates to why it is a struggle, even after having been on national tv back in the eighties: the masses are fickle and they don’t like to look too deeply at anything. So it will take a while and you may have to hang in there even longer but there are those of us who are with you in spirit.

    Saying all that, I would rather hang around wearing one of those snazzy t-shirts you promised, if you don’t mind?

    All the best

  3. peter says:

    I had already mentioned that it would be great if you could do some of your ‘live’ screenings, in a blog post that I did about you last year. I would love to see Road Dreams on a big screen/ several screens at the same time. I will keep checking back to see how you are getting on. All the best.

  4. mattm says:

    Elliot, I have just come across this website and thought it might offer you a way forward. Given the level of positive feeling from people about your films, I wondered if this might be a way to fund the Codachrome film?

  5. Steve Mainwaring says:

    Elliott, glad to see a progress update. I hope the book comes to fruition as this would be a perfect compliment to the CD and DVD already produced. Of course, still itching to get hold of Codachrome but have learned to be patient (I guess as you have had to during the production process…). I have sent requests to C4 on at least two occasions (and received replies) asking for RD to be screened again (especially now that they are dropping that infuriating “Big Brother” series and will free up several hundred hours of air time). Maybe others could do the same and get it back on our screens to enable another generation of RD fans to develop!

  6. Steve Parry says:


    Glad to read your latest update. I too remember fondly watching the original Ch4 series. I’m thinking if next summer Mark Cousins and Tilda Swinton run their travelling cinema across Scotland your presence, armed with DVD, could be a wonderful part of the show:

  7. Alex says:

    Hi Elliott, At last I’ve found your work.

    Like many others, it would seem, I felt that over the years I had somehow morphed and expanded my memories of a beautiful, lilting, wordless TV show about America. I had mentioned it to friends to no avail, but just this week one of those friends sent me a Youtube link of your show. I am so pleased to see it again after all these years. It has always remained firmly in my memory and my sub-conscious.

    I will be ordering the DVD and CD and the movie when you complete it.

    Thank you.

  8. David Litchfield says:

    Do Channel 4 still hold the broadcasting rights to Road Dreams? Would seem a bit strange if they did, given their descent into ratings-chasing trash.

    It strikes me BBC3 or BBC4 would be a good home for a re-run. Perhaps we should start a campaign.


  9. Steve Mainwaring says:

    I did write to C4 via e-mail on a couple of occasions to try and persuade them to repeat Road Dreams (especially now they’ve freed up 400 hours of air time by cancelling the infuriating ‘Big Brother’). I did get a response – not overly positive but not outright dismissive either so there may be room to work on this. Maybe other readers of this forum can do the same and start the ‘pressure group’ to get RD back on our screens.


  10. Derek Scott says:

    If C4 no longer have any hold on these films then may BBC4 might consider putting them all together in their “Storyville” series. Content there is eclectic enough to include these films. IMO they are unique and have enough historical significance to warrant a permanant place in the achives. That does sound a bit serious but I’m biased like like all the fans here. If not Storyville we can at least keep hoping for Codachrome.
    Best Wishes to you Elliott.

  11. David Litchfield says:

    No news for a long long time, Elliott. How are things going?


  12. Chris Cooper says:

    I have changed my facebook profile pic to the RD T-shirt design, thus introducing it to many more people. This will undoubtedly, eventually, result in a further 10 million DVD and CD sales and a knighthood for Elliott for services to every nostalgic person in the western world!


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