The American photographer Stephen Shore once declared, “Our country is made for long trips.” That sentiment is celebrated by The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip, on view now at the Blanton Museum of Art.
The Open Road is the first exhibition to present photography of the iconic American road trip. It explores American life by presenting the stories of several photographers for whom the American road was muse.
The photos present a journey through America’s evolving culture, as viewed on its highways and byways from the 1950s to now. The exhibition showcases more than 100 images by photographers such as Robert Frank, William Eggleston, Lee Friedlander, Alec Soth and Justine Kurland, who explored America as a subject by capturing images of the people, activities and views found along its highways.
The Blanton’s curatorial staff used the collections of The University of Texas at Austin to add new dimensions to The Open Road, which was originally organized by the Aperture Foundation in New York City. Claire Howard, assistant curator of modern and contemporary art at the Blanton, included new pieces such as Jack Kerouac’s handwritten “On the Road” notebook from the university’s Harry Ransom Center.
Also included are selections from Black in America (1997) by Magnum photographer and UT photojournalism professor Eli Reed. The photos, part of the Magnum Photos Collection at the university’s Harry Ransom Center, represent Reed’s compelling 20-year study of African-American life across the U.S.
Similarly, the inclusion of the 1953 edition of “The Negro Travelers’ Green Book,” a guide that identified black-friendly hotels, restaurants and other businesses, provides a solemn reminder that the African-American experience differed profoundly when it came to freedom of movement throughout the United States. The book is part of the ExxonMobil Historical Collection at UT Austin’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.
These additions strengthen the exhibition’s focus on social dynamics by giving voice to the African-American experience of the road, and they are uniquely presented at the Blanton’s exhibition.