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Road Trip to Escape, USA

Artist Julie Langsam opens up about the open road, the dark side of sunsets, why Texas reminds her of NJ, and her favorite road trip films.

Julie Langsam, Still image from documentary, to be released 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.
Julie Langsam, Linden, Pink Pipe (Pink Stripe), 2021. Ink on photograph. 11 x 8.5 in.

Within the safety of our screens, the moving image transports us when we can’t transport ourselves. We can travel across oceans, bounce through time and soar into far-off galaxies, all from the comforts of our own stillness. But nothing revs us up like a road trip on film. The soundtrack isn’t inside your head, it’s blasting from the car speakers. The windshield isn’t so much shielding as it is framing carefully crafted narratives of adventure, longing, decay, youth and malaise. With characters stuck together for hours on end, a car interior makes for the perfect confessional for our sins and desires. And while we may be obsessed with over-the-top car chase scenes, it's within the speed limits of a road trip where our human dramas unfold.

Artist and filmmaker Julie Langsam knows a thing or two about the power of the open road, and myriad landscapes that burn onto our collective imagination. For Issue 1, as she was concluding a 3-month, 15,000-mile long journey to capture footage for her new feature-length film, we asked Langsam to imagine new landscapes along the Turnpike. The result is a set of piercing images that colorfully augment what she calls “cuts into the fabric of normalcy and complacency.”

With her film now in final production, Dense editor Andrew Harrison invited Langsam back into a conversation, to open up about the open road, the dark side of sunsets, why Texas reminds her of New Jersey, the courage we find in unsuspecting places, and her “Best Of” list of favorite road trip films.