Matt Herzog is one of the artists featured in our new show Rolling Along. His featured work documents the blood, sweat, and tears of traveling on the open road on a trip he took during the Summer of 2021 with his three friends, Jake Singer, David Fort Jr, and Bobby Decker. Curious about his highway time, we recently took a moment to chat with Matt about his process and the trip. The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
First off, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
Matt Herzog: Yeah sure! I am a recent college grad from Drexel Film and Video. My life’s mission is to see and learn everything before I can’t anymore. If you're looking for influences in my work, I guess it would have to be the painters, Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth.
I was wondering how you originally got into photography as a medium?
There’s actually a story here. The last day of my last final in sophomore year of high school. I just finished the test and I got a call from my mother that my dad is in the hospital. Really serious. I’m not going to disgust you with the details, but it was a serious stomach condition. He was in the hospital for about a month, it was scary. I got… I don't want to say depressed, but I was dealing with a lot of intense emotions, and I really just bottled it all up inside. Anyways, months later he was back home but it was hard to process seeing my father barely able to walk around. I was in an emotional, vulnerable spot and looking for some kind of release. One day, I find my grandpa’s old Nikkormat. My dad showed me how to use it, and I spent my junior year learning and using the old film camera. It was my therapy, it was my space. Photography offered me the chance to grow and mature on my own terms and pace.
What inspired you to hit the road this past summer?
Covid fatigue, I was graduating, I was getting exhausted from my internship. You name it. I had a million reasons to do it, and very few not to. At that point in July, Covid was losing steam, Delta wasn’t even a thing. I started planning the trip towards the end of the school year. I organized the trip around key locations that we were definitely going to hit: Washington DC, Dave’s hometown in Arkansas, Grand Canyon, LA, etc. I used two travel books, Google Maps and Atlas Obscura. It got to the point where each day had an itinerary. The planning of the trip itself was actually really fulfilling.
How well were you able to keep to your plans, or what went well and what needed to be adapted while on the road?
The itinerary I made really helped with the focus of the trip. I mean we did a whole month of being on the road and kept pretty much in line with what I planned. We strayed, got ahead, fell behind, skipped some things and some places entirely, but we were always on the same general path.
Sometimes, it did bum me out when the guys didn’t want to do something or we didn’t have time for it. On the itinerary, there was an abandoned mental asylum in Virginia, where I thought it would be cool to sleep inside. Nobody else even wanted to see it.
It was kinda natural to keep following the itinerary though, because the moment we thought, “What do we do now,” we just checked the itinerary.
There is a skill in balancing spontaneity and structure though. Some of our best moments on the trip were unplanned, like when we hiked at Wet Beaver Creek in Arizona during a rainstorm or when we went to Laguna Beach in California.
But sometimes our lack of planning would almost screw us over. Like when we ended up with dangerously low gas on a highway with nothing around for literally 50 miles. We did that multiple times actually. And lucky enough, we never ran out of gas.
When looking back, what is an experience that sticks out in your memory?
That’s a good one. It’s hard to choose a single moment. Us making a snap decision to go to Roswell, New Mexico and sleeping in a Walmart parking lot. Getting piss drunk in Arkansas and then lighting the fireworks on the Fourth of July. We shared basically every experience on the trip, but I’ll tell you the one that’s most “mine.”
One night, we were in a campground just outside of Phoenix, Arizona. Arizona is so insanely hot. My hair was shoulder-length at this point. Dave and I were sleeping in the van and Bobby and Jake were sleeping outside. My hair was really pissing me off that night. It was really dirty and hot and sweaty and gross. You know when you have the urge to flip your pillow to get to the cold side? I had that urge with my hair. I woke up right around sunrise about 5 in the morning. I knew I was going to shave my head.
Nobodies up, so I scope out the area. Where is the best place to shave my head? If you couldn’t already tell, I’m delirious right now, running on like 4 hours of sleep. I’m walking around listening to Clairo’s new album, right next to what has to be Arizona’s only body of water. Overhead, I see about a dozen hot air balloons suspended in the air. Then, I see a family of donkeys drinking from the lake and a bunch of giant cacti. All of this isn’t helping my delirium. Anyways, I make my way back and everybody is up. I tell them that I’m shaving my head in a lake. Like the good photographers they are, they immediately grab their cameras.
Now I’m in a lake, one whose bottom feels entirely made up of clams and jagged rocks. I’m in the middle of shaving my head, when my electric razor gives out. Bobby has to get his and finish the job. Then, this group of kayakers passing by, literally stopped to watch my head being shaved. They must’ve thought it was a movie, or maybe some weird cult thing. We finish shaving my head, and it looks pretty good. The next night I slept great.
On a similar note, is there one photo that sticks out in your mind as being particularly memorable?
I am really happy with how so many of my photos turned out. But, I am most engaged by this one photo I took at Monument Valley. It’s of a man in front of his horses with a fairly bare plains landscape behind him. The photo has technically good elements: it follows the rule of thirds, there’s a frame within the frame. But more importantly, there’s a narrative to be made in the head of a viewer, “Who is this guy? How long has he been doing this? Is he looking for something more or is he happy?”
What are you working on next?
I’m in the early stages of making a graphic novel with my friends Dave and Ace, reworking old scripts from college and planning my next road trip.
Matt Herzog’s work is included in our current show Rolling Along. The show will be on view from Friday January 14th through February 27th. Matt’s images are available to order as prints on our website, and he is also featured in the limited edition Rolling Along Bundle.