“The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip” opens May 25 at Telfair Museums' Jepson Center with an opening reception and lecture by co-curator David Campany at 6 p.m. May 24.
“The Open Road” was organized by the Aperture Foundation and has previously been exhibited at locations like Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, and Milwaukee Art Museum. The Jepson is the final destination for this particular road trip.
“Viewers can expect to be amazed by how diverse each road trip appears from the varied perspectives of individual photographers,” explains Telfair assistant curator Erin Dunn. “All of the photographers found the open road an inviting avenue to discover more about America and their own place within it, but that discovery looks different through the lens of each photographer.
“Additionally, the exhibition covers a time span of 1955 to the present day, so not only can you see time pass by in the clothes and hairstyles of the individuals depicted, but you can also see time pass by in the medium of photography itself as the photographs change from straightforward, detail-oriented 35mm black-and-white photographs to more abstract, large-scale, color photographs.”
With nearly 100 photographs from the likes of Robert Frank, Ryan McGinley, Alec Soth, William Eggleston, Justine Kurland, Lee Friedlander, Joel Meyerowitz and many others, the sheer variety of perspectives should provide an enthralling viewing experience for museum-goers of all stripes.
“The exhibition posits the road trip as a genre in and of itself,” says Dunn. “The images all look so different based on whether the photographer was shooting quickly to capture all the details of strangers on a sidewalk or driving with the seasons to capture locations emphasized by a certain time of year, or even seeking out the strange and uncomfortable among the familiar. There is, of course, a narrative quality to each of the individual series, but also an overarching narrative of photographers embracing the subject of America in order to reflect on place, time and self.”
And though many of the images are playful and simply entertaining to look at, the exhibition can also be viewed as a sort of travelogue of history.
“I think this show will be easy to enjoy in many ways,” says Dunn. “On the surface, it is a presentation of a combination of straightforward, thought-provoking, funny and surreal images brought together to illuminate a theme familiar to everyone coming through the exhibition.
"In another capacity, it is a presentation of the history and context of the time periods in which the works were made. The exhibition begins with the economic boom and freedom of post-WWII America. This is also the time that highways are being built and expanded and cars are becoming more readily available for families of every class. Still, the freedom to drive alone and without domestic responsibilities is mainly limited to white males, who were given the access and freedom to move in and out of spaces that others were not.
"So, while the idea of the open road is closely tied to the notion of freedom, even the photographs themselves reveal that this is an evolving notion... Often these photographers showed the truth of what was rather than an embellished notion of what America was supposed to be.”