Road Trip

I love the new Volvo ad that imagines a modern day Walt Whitman.  ‘Song of the Open Road’ has always called to me as I’m sure it has to others who have a wanderlust.  ‘The east and the west are mine, the north and the south are mine’.  And that fox!  Best part of the visuals.

The appeal of the ad, to me, is the call to the open road.  And for some reason, the open road has been a siren call to photographers forever.

Hearing Whitman’s words reminded me of some wonderful portfolios I have, in book form, of photographers who sought their muse on the open road.  And without a doubt, one of the best is Robert Frank.  Not only is it one of the best, but I think this collection of images is very topical for the increasingly dark, divided United States right now.  Frank’s book, ‘The American’s’, was a revolutionary work and changed the course of American photography in the 20th century.  At the time the book was published – 1959 – America and American life was portrayed in popular magazines in glossy, idyllic images.  Frank received a Guggenheim Fellowship grant that allowed him, in 1955, to travel all over the United States.  The people he photographed were not living the American Dream.  They were factory workers, elevator operators, transvestites in New York, black passengers on a segregated trolley in New Orleans. The images are all monochrome, gritty, depicting the politics, alienation, power and injustice at play just beneath the surface. One of the themes that the photographs evoke are ubiquitous loneliness, even in the midst of crowds or an urban city scene. Another emphasis is on race and class differences and the tension inherent in that polarization.

Jack Kerouac wrote the introduction to the book and by doing so, gave it the blessing of the Beat generation.  Which was a good thing because the book was not initially well-received.  It was perceived as being derogatory to national ideals because rather than portraying the myth, the images were a more realistic, honest portrayal of American life.  In time, however, because of its inspiration to other artists, it was considered a seminal work and the one to which Frank is most identified.

I highly recommend this book for all photographers and for all travelers.  

“That crazy feeling in America when the sun is hot on the streets and music comes out of the jukebox or from a nearby funeral, that’s what Robert Frank has captured in tremendous photographs taken as he traveled on the road around practically forty-eight states in an old used car (on Guggenheim Fellowship) and with the agility, mystery, genius, sadness, and strange secrecy of a shadow photographed scenes that have never been seen before on film….After seeing these pictures you end up finally not knowing any more whether a jukebox is sadder than a coffin. That’s because he’s always taking pictures of jukeboxes and coffins – and intermediary mysteries like the Negro priest squatting underneath the bright liquid belly mer of the Mississippi at Baton Rouge for some reason at dusk or early dawn with a white snowy cross and secret incantations never known outside the bayou – Or the picture of a chair in some cafe with the sun coming in the window and setting on the chair in a holy halo I never though could be caught on film much less described in its beautiful visual entirety in words.”                    Jack Kerouac


About Diana Davidson

Physician, traveler, photographer, tennis player, reader, teacher, student

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