LOST AMERICA | Troy Pavia

Wandering the deserted back roads of the American Southwest, Troy Paiva has explored the abandoned underbelly of America since the 1970s. Since 1989 he’s been taking pictures of it … at night, by the light of the full moon.


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A multi-discipline artist, Troy needed to find a new medium to create personal art while he worked in a heavily art directed graphic design job. Sitting in on a few night photography classes, he had a revelation when the subject of lightpainting came up. Here were techniques that would be perfect for capturing the atmosphere and mystery of the modern ghost towns and sprawling desert junkyards he had been already exploring since he was a teen.

After years of development, Troy’s early vision has been fully realized through his unique style and technique. The colored lighting is done with a flashlight or hand-held strobe flash masked with theatrical lighting gels. Its effect reanimates these dead places, turning them into mutant tableaus of some vaguely familiar parallel universe. The minutes-long exposures allow the stars to spiral around Polaris and the moving clouds to smear ethereally across the sky. Many of his subjects are already gone; bulldozed, burned down, subdivided, melted for scrap or simply vanished beneath the shifting desert sand.

While there are minor digital darkroom adjustments to some of the photographs, the lighting effects are all done “in-camera” during the exposure. These images are not Photoshop creations.

Since 1998 Troy’s www.lostamerica.com site has been online in one form or another, and Troy’s low cost / high impact lighting techniques have been adopted by amateur and professional photographers all over the world.

His works examine the evolution and eventual abandonment of the communities, structures and social iconography spawned during 20th century America’s western expansion … and the modern Urban Exploration culture that finds strange comfort in dancing through its ruins.