This Port-a-Potty Is the First Sign Things Are Going to Change

The Photo Blog
March 7 2014 11:04 AM

This Port-a-Potty Is the First Sign Things Are Going to Change

Bear Lake Garden City, Utah
Bear Lake Garden City, Utah

Travis Rix

For many people who need to “go,” the very last resort is often a port-a-potty. It’s a claustrophobic’s nightmare, but nonetheless they can be a desperate person’s saving grace.

Photographer Travis Rix sees them not only as a last resort, but also as a “First Sign.” Since he was a young boy, Rix has traveled around the country with his father, a floor-covering contractor for companies that build retirement centers. Born in Arizona but raised in Michigan, Rix has spent a lot of time on the road with his family, having seen roughly 45 of the United States. At a young age, Rix received disposable cameras and photo albums from his mother, who encouraged him to take pictures and to “keep them and remember them.” He said he did it reluctantly, though he loved looking through the viewfinder—especially in Colorado, where it was “too easy to make beautiful photos.”

In the summer of 2012, during one trip in Oregon, Rix was looking to photograph some landscapes for a class he was taking at the School of Visual Arts in New York, where he will graduate this May with a BFA in photography. Rix wanted to separate his work from traditional landscape photography and noticed a gorgeous setting in Pacific City, Ore., right along the ocean with huge, beautiful pine trees that dotted the coastline. But nestled among the natural grandeur, between the upright trees and a stump, was a blue port-a-potty. Inspired, Rix snapped the shot that earned mostly laughter from the rest of his family. But when he got home, things were different.

Advertisement

“When I looked at it on my computer, I thought there was something there,” Rix said. “The way the light came through the trees, the color of the port-a-potty against the color of the ground and sky. … It just said something, and when I went to Colorado the next week, I saw more and more of them, all with beautiful backdrops, and I thought, ‘I can’t ignore this.’ ”

Pacific City, Oregon
Pacific City, Ore.

Travis Rix

Perry Park, Colorado
Perry Park, Colo.

Travis Rix

Tuttle, Idaho
Tuttle, Idaho

Travis Rix

Rix began to seek out similar scenes during future road trips. Although he shoots with a digital SLR camera, he approaches the shot as if he were shooting with a 4-by-5 camera, scouting beautiful backdrops, looking for the best angles and light, and the perfect placement of the port-a-potty. “The shot has to say more than, ‘We’re building a house here,’ ” Rix said. “[It has to say,] ‘We’re going to do a lot more than just build a house here.’ [The port-a-potty] is the first sign of environment change. It’s no longer going to look like a pristine lake or endless grassland or the mountain range. It’s going to be the oil refinery or the big city—something is going to be changed, and something is going to impact the environment.”

Rix said “First Sign” is an ongoing project, something he sees pursuing as long as he continues to travel and doesn’t get tired of the series. Rix says he now goes after more complicated images and is drawn to photographs that invite second looks. “The first time people look at them, they kind of giggle, and then they take another look and say, ‘Oh, I get it,’ ” he said.

Rix will be in the School of Visual Arts’ “Mentors” show in New York City at the SVA Chelsea Gallery from March 22 through April 5. 

Midtown East New York, New York
Midtown East New York, N.Y.

Travis Rix

Larkspur, Colorado
Larkspur, Colo.

Travis Rix

East of Green River, Wyoming
East of Green River, Wyo.

Travis Rix

Pineland, South Carolina
Pineland, S.C.

Travis Rix

Redlands, California
Redlands, Calif.

Travis Rix

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.