OKLAHOMA CITY — The revival of Route 66 has led to a fascination with the exterior of the many motels that line the historic highway, but one Tulsa artist hopes a new exhibit will remind people that not everything that goes on inside the rooms should be romanticized.
Western Doughty’s Route 66: Room #116 is a collection of about 75 images depicting everyday experiences that take place at a motel along Route 66 that tends to attract an assortment of travelers: transients, cross-country drivers, families and Route 66 enthusiasts.
The show is scheduled to open at Living Arts in Tulsa on Jan. 3 and run through Jan. 23.
“The things that you expect to happen at those places, it’s true,” Doughty said, later adding: “We romanticize Route 66 motels and we should, but we also know that things go on behind these walls and doors that are part of the American fabric good or bad.”
More than three dozen of the images from the project have been posted to Doughty’s website, and the images are striking and formidable. Most show a seedy underbelly of society that many people like to think doesn’t exist: In one, a woman stands behind a bathroom door, phone in hand, ready to attack a man draped only in a towel who is exiting the bathroom.
But others show more mundane moments in life, like a young boy jumping on the bed.
The project took Doughty three years to complete. It included three one-week installments where Doughty slept and lived in a room at the Desert Hills Motel along Tulsa’s 11th Street, which is also Route 66. More than 200 people were photographed, many of whom answered a casting call but some who were also staying at the motel and asked to take part.
As a child in the 1970s, Doughty’s mother took him to the Desert Hills Motel to stay after what he now believes was a fight between his parents. The motel, he said, became an emotional “trigger” for him as got older and he wanted to see how others reacted to their own triggers.
The responses were at times emotional. “Sometimes you think someone is a little more rough and they end up being real timid,” he said. “I guess some of the emotional responses I got and putting them in the situation, I expected it, but not the magnitude of it.”
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