• May 5, 2015

Visualizing the Fast Lane From Above

Peter Andrew Lusztyk’s aerial photographs of freeway interchanges feel vaguely familiar. I might not know what these interchanges look like from above, but as a native Houstonian I’m well acquainted with these elaborate feats of engineering. Houston has some of the most towering ramps, widest freeways, and multipronged interchanges in the U.S. Or, as we like to call them: spaghetti bowls. The way your stomach turns a little as you reach the highest point on one of these ramps is something you have to experience to fully understand.

Lusztyk has yet to photograph interchanges in Houston, but he says it’s high up on his list of locations. The miniature-looking cars and frozen details of Lusztyk’s photographs are practically surreal. They depict one of those rare instances where “bad” mid-afternoon light illuminates a scene. The result is a series of detailed tableaux called “Highways.” Lusztyk recently shared details of this intriguing project.

Picture of highway interchange
I-787 Connector/I-787 Interchange in Albany, New York

JANNA DOTSCHKAL: How did you first start working on this project?

PETER ANDREW LUSZTYK: There was a scene in a Dr. Seuss cartoon that I used to watch when I was a kid. It depicted the future with all the highways elevated on these sky-high ramps that twisted throughout a metropolis. I remember flying into Toronto’s Pearson Airport around the same age and seeing the interchanges on the 401 and thinking, Hey, that’s already the reality. In 2008, I had a friend doing flight training and he was able to take me up on some photo missions and that’s when I shot the first images in the series.

Picture of desert highway interchange
Black Canyon Freeway/HWY 101 Interchange in Phoenix, Arizona
Picture of highway interchange
Santa Ana/Riverside Freeway Interchange in Los Angeles, California

JANNA: Why do freeway interchanges interest you? How do you find interchanges to photograph?

PETER: I think what interests me is that they are so intricate, so planned, and massive but at the same time invisible—mostly overlooked, ignored. I spend hours scouting around for them on Google Earth.

JANNA: How do you make these aerials? How high in the air are you?

PETER: I like to shoot out of small helicopters. The R22 is a favorite of mine because it is relatively cheap to rent, easy to maneuver, and you can remove the doors. Sometimes helicopters are hard to rent in some places, in which case I’ll use a Cessna. I’m normally around 1,000 to 1,600 feet high but that can change depending on the size of the interchange and height restrictions in the area.

Picture of highway interchange
Papago/Red Mountain Freeway Interchange in Phoenix, Arizona
Picture of highway interchange
I-696/Mound Road Interchange in Detroit, Michigan


JANNA: Where have you found the most interesting interchanges?

PETER: I love the ones in Detroit because they are massive but at the same time desolate. Sometimes the most interesting interchanges are in smaller/medium-size cities like Amarillo, Jacksonville, and Albany.

Picture of highway interchange
I-40/HWY87 Interchange in Amarillo, Texas
Picture of highway interchange
I-10/I-110 Interchange in Los Angeles, California

JANNA: How has your technique evolved? What kind of light or moments do you look for?

PETER: I’ve learned to sacrifice using a low ISO in order to get a faster shutter speed. I’d rather have more grain but a razor-sharp exposure. This has evolved too because in the time I’ve been shooting the series the ISO quality in digital cameras has been exponentially improving.

I like dynamic lighting. Sunsets and long shadows help give the highway structures dimension. Sometimes I’m in a location for only a few hours so I have to live with whatever lighting is available. It works out well though because it gives the images in the series their own unique character. I think if all the images were shot in ideal and identical lighting conditions it wouldn’t be as interesting.

Picture of highway interchange
Décarie Interchange in Montreal, Quebec
Picture of highway interchange
I-10/I-101 Interchange in Los Angeles, California

JANNA: What surprises you the most when you are above an interchange?

PETER: There is a weird moment sometimes where you pause and realize there is a tremendous, almost dizzying level of motion. Nothing is holding still. The helicopter is orbiting, the ground is moving, the cars are all buzzing around. When you’re looking through the viewfinder composing the image, everything seems to slow down, but when you look away for a second, you feel the velocity and altitude.

Follow Peter Andrew Lusztyk on Twitter and Instagram.


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There are 17 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. elmer
    May 30, 2015

    While its important to bemoan the loss of rain forest it is worth noting that NG celebrates both the natural and human-made aspects of our planet. And though it is critical to the advancement of the human race that we learn to achieve a balance with Nature and to remember that in fact we are not a separate entity of Nature on this planet, we are just another expression of it. Part of the problem is thinking that we are “ doing this” to the Earth, when in reality we are the Earth.
    Throughout history humans have sought to “conquer” nature, seeing ourselves as something separate from it. I think it is equally arrogant to think we can “fix it”.
    Only when humankind can realize its oneness with the things it thinks are separate, will it possess the tools to create this balance. In the meantime you can do your part and do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.

  2. gwen
    May 17, 2015

    they are still cool though…

  3. stan
    May 9, 2015

    I’m so surprised people like these pictures! I mean they are good photos, but having just watched a series about disappearing rainforest and about Hadza hunters in Afrika whose way of life left no trace on their land for 50 thousand years I think these pictures are nothing but depressing! Are freeway interchanges really so admirable? One person above writes about their experience of driving through one of those monsters…how about a walk in the forest by the river? wouldn’t that be more worthy a collection of aerial shots for Natgeo?

  4. koenliekens.be
    May 7, 2015

    Love this!! Wish I knew how to fly a plane or a drone 😀

  5. randy
    May 7, 2015

    that is so cool

  6. Coburn Dukehart
    May 7, 2015

    @Speed – Thanks for your comment, one photo is the I-10/I-110 Interchange in Los Angeles, and the other is the I-10/I-101. I double-checked with Peter just to make sure!

  7. Bonnie Nevins
    May 6, 2015

    I worked in the drafting dept in IL DOT & drew roads & bridges by hand before computers…this is beautiful art to me….

  8. Speed
    May 6, 2015

    You have two pictures labelled I-10/I-101 Interchange in Los Angeles, California. I think only the first one is correct.

  9. Caesar
    May 6, 2015

    You can try to see “semanggi intersection” in jakarta , indonesia

  10. anil makwana
    May 6, 2015

    Very nice road and
    Infrastructure ideas…
    So sweet planing design

  11. Peter Andrew Lusztyk
    May 6, 2015

    @George: Some interesting info about the Richview Memorial Cemetery right in the middle of the 401-427 interchange in Toronto – http://torontoist.com/2012/10/toronto-cemetery-sojourns-richview-memorial-cemetery/

  12. George
    May 6, 2015

    I’d like to see the 401-427 interchange in Toronto from directly above. I’ve seen low obliques of this large interchange, but verticals give a different perspective.

  13. Peter Andrew Lusztyk
    May 5, 2015

    @Dick Jacoby & carla: here is a link to my shot of the Spaghetti bowl in Chicago:

    @Kathi Vestal: Still need to shoot the Springfield Interchange!

  14. Carol
    May 5, 2015

    If you haven’t taken pictures of the Portland, Oregon interchanges you may want to plan doing it. Driving among all those looping routes over and along the Willamette River is an experience all its own. Pictures from above would enhance it. Thank you.

  15. carla
    May 5, 2015

    My thoughts exactly Dick Jacoby.

  16. Kathi Vestal
    May 5, 2015

    Where’s N. Virginia? We call it the “Mixing Bowl.” Intersection of I95, I395, I495.

  17. Dick Jacoby
    May 5, 2015

    Where’s Chicago? We call it the “Spaghetti Bowl.” Intersection of I90 and I94.

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