Where the retro hits the road: Little Italy photographer David Schwartz gets his pix on Route 66

One might expect a photographer with a studio on Random Road to produce quirky, delightful work. True to form, David Schwartz doesn't disappoint.

This weekend, Schwartz will debut the "Pix on Route 66" exhibition in tandem with the Little Italy Holiday Art Walk from Dec. 6 to 9. Culled from years of road trips down the iconic highway, Schwartz's photos depict vivid slices of Americana. Think vintage motel signs, mom-and-pop shops, and cool cars "in various states of fade and rust"—not to mention a healthy helping of Instagram-worthy landscapes.

Gary Turner at You Service!"My hope is to give people a feel for what it's like to travel [Route] 66 and what you'll see along the way," explains Schwartz, who both lives and works out of his Little Italy studio. "The idea is to give people a real visual of what the scenery is like and [depict] different vignettes of 66."

Schwartz's own love affair with the nearly 100-year-old highway began back in 2004, when he journeyed out west for a national park photography project but ended up taking a detour through Route 66 strictly out of curiosity.

"I'd always been kind of interested in it, ever since I heard that [same-named] Depeche Mode song," says Schwartz. "I ended up spending four extra days on the road going from Amarillo to Santa Monica just shooting film, and I followed the landscape instead of cutting through the interstates. In the end, I enjoyed the stuff I shot on 66 more than the national park."

That impromptu road trip ended up sparking an annual pilgrimage for Schwartz, who says he has spent up to a month every year since then traveling and photographing Route 66. "The more time I was able to spend meeting people on the road and hearing their stories, the more I got hooked," shares Schwartz.

His Route 66 specialty ended up leading to professional opportunities such as shooting covers and pictorial spreads for Route magazine and becoming an associate producer for an upcoming web series titled "American Prairie." Schwartz has also shown his Route 66 work at the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum and is a regular at the Little Italy Art Walk, which will highlight his dedicated exhibition this weekend.

The show will feature 150 to 175 of Schwartz's Route 66 images, ranging from 8-inch by 8-inch wood panel collages to large, 20-inch x 40-inch metal prints that will also be for sale. Some of Schwartz's favorite pieces depict Seligman, Arizona, and Crookton Road, which he says is his favorite stretch of the highway. "The rebirth of Route 66 started there," says Schwartz. "Seligman is one of the most celebrated towns located on Route 66."

Schwartz hopes that his Route 66 exhibition will inspire others to admire and explore the road on a deeper level, sharing the appreciation that is felt far and wide.

"Route 66 is probably more famous around the world than it is here in the U.S.—there's a huge foreign interest in it," says Schwartz. "It's pretty common to be out there on the road and meet people from all over. On Route 66, the world comes to your doorstep."

Read more articles by Jen Jones Donatelli.

As an enthusiastic CLE-vangelist, Jen Jones Donatelli enjoys diving headfirst into her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Upon moving back to Cleveland after 16 years in Los Angeles, Jen served as FreshWater's managing editor for two years (2017-2019) and continues her work with the publication as a contributing editor and host of the FreshFaces podcast. When not typing the day away at her laptop, she teaches writing and creativity classes through her small business Creative Groove, as well as Literary Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and more. Jen is a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.