Art Review Archives:
On The Road:
Museum of Contemporary Photography
Dorothea Lange's Depression-era photographs crown this thoughtful four-part exhibition, which spans the Museum of Contemporary Photography from top to bottom. Begin on the top floor with Dorothea Lange, featuring 45 photographs from the MoCP's extensive holdings of Lange's work documenting rural poverty, displacement, and social outsiders. On exhibit are selections from her Dust Bowl photography of the 1930s and 40s, World War II photography including two photographs from the artist's censored series on Japanese American Internment, and post-war work focusing on the inhabitants of Mormon towns. Migrant Mother, considered Lange's signature work, is featured here, along with five accompanying photos showing different angles and versions of the same mother and children. It is a rare look at the photographer's own editorial process leading up to her most iconic image. The photos of Farm Security Administration offer further scenes of America's devastated heartland, beset by both dust and flood. The Farm Security Administration photographers (Lange among them) were assembled by the Roosevelt administration to document the impoverishment of America between 1934-1944. Ten FSA photographers are featured, including Ben Shahn, Walker Evans, and Gordon Parks.
Moving the theme forward into the 50s are prints reproduced from the 1955-56 photo essay The Americans by Robert Frank. During this two-year period Frank went on an extended road trip across the length and breadth of America, documenting the unusual in its highways and byways. The photos tie in with the exhibition's linkage to Jack Kerouac, whose On the Road is celebrating its 50th anniversary of publication and gives the show its main title; Kerouac's introductory essay accompanies the photos. On the main floor, Dave Anderson: Rough Beauty (2003-2006) brings the topic into the present day in a three-year study of rural poverty in the impoverished town of Vidor, Texas. Among most compelling of Anderson's photos are those concerning death, from the wild bedside grief of Death in Vidor to the indifference and neglect embodied in A Quiet Death. Where Lange and the FSA photographers suggested a resilient populace, grimly determined to survive against all odds, Rough Beauty holds out the gray reminder that many will live and die in such conditions. These four highly complementary bodies of work offer much on which to think on the nature of displacement, impoverishment, and social justice. The exhibition runs through November 1, 2008.
--Katherine R. Lieber