Americans' passion for road trips is the result of a confluence of good roadways, steady paychecks, leisure time and all those cars that came out of the factories after the Second World War was finally over. With so many wide-open expanses to explore, the population actually embraced the concept of loading luggage and filling the gas tank--in search of the freedom that comes with escaping the daily grind.
Along with maps, most of these travelers did not hesitate to take along cameras--from Brownies to Polaroids to Coolpix to iPhones--to chronicle what they found. Some do that better than others.
Among the finest are the images of The Open Road, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art's first large-scale photography exhibition, which features 19 photographers roaming across the country on jaunts that took place from the 1950s to today. Subjects include roadside motels, Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, legendary Route 66, the Pacific Coast Highway, theme parks, and everything to be seen in between.
There are also curated lists of the best road-trip music--Chuck Berry's "Maybellene," Nat King Cole's version of "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66," Roger Miller's "King of the Road," Woody Guthrie's "Hard Travelin"--and movies--1940's Grapes of Wrath, 1969's Easy Rider, 1991's Thelma and Louise, and the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis from 2013.
Many of the photographers whose work is on display are from overseas, drawn here in the 1940s and '50s by the reputation of America as a unique cultural and industrial society--a magnet for adventurous artists and the impetus behind a new genre of art photography.
Among the show's attractions are street-level observations of Detroit, New York and New Orleans in the mid-1950s by Swiss master Robert Frank, examples of a stunning Los Alamos dye-transfer portfolio by Memphis-born William Eggleston (the first to elevate color photography to the level of fine art), 26 evocative gas stations from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City by Ed Ruscha shot in 1962, a series of monuments by Lee Friedlander, views of poverty and injustice as seen by Denmark's Jacob Holdt, who hitchhiked around the U.S. from 1971 through 1976, the "liberation of driving and a credit card" as perceived by New Yorker Stephen Shore through the lens of a large-format camera, and strangely beautiful lodgings of so-called river rats in decrepit houseboats along the Mississippi River.
The exhibition, which opened Feb. 27, continues through May 30. Bentonville is an attractive destination this time of year. Maybe a road trip is in order. Bring a camera.
Editorial on 03/02/2016
Print Headline: Photogs on the move