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Why We're Doing It

In times of national uncertainty and distress, artists seek out the freedom of the open road, taking visual stock of the state of the nation.


It is a distinctly American reaction, undertaken by artists and writers again and again over the past century. Now, more than ever, is a time for listening, learning, and image-making.



Horatio Nelson Jackson drives from San Francisco to New York City, becoming the first person to cross the United States by car. The journey takes him 63 days, 12 hours, and 30 minutes.

Horatio Jackson Nelson in his Winton, "The Vermont". Modified 1903 photograph; original in University of Vermont special collection.


Edward Hopper buys his first car. Imagery of the road finds its way into his work for the rest of his career.

Edward Hopper, Gas, 1940. Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.


Georgia O’Keeffe begins spending part of her year in New Mexico, moving there full-time in 1949. She often uses her Ford Model A as a mobile painting studio.

Photograph by Alfred Stieglitz. Image courtesy of Beinecke Library.


Walker Evans publishes American Photographs, a series of photos taken during the Great Depression for the Farm Security Administration.


Photograph by Walker Evans. Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.


Jack Kerouac publishes On the Road, depicting beat culture through a series of road trips.


Image courtesy of Penguin Books.


Robert Frank publishes The Americans with an introduction by Jack Kerouac. The book is met with negative reviews due to its critical take on America post-WWII, but would later go on to influence generations of photographers.


Photograph by Robert Frank.


Inge Morath creates a series of road trip photographs on her way to Reno, Nevada with Henri Cartier-Bresson, where the two have been hired to photograph Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe’s film The Misfits (1961).

Photograph by Inge Morath, courtesy of the Inge Morath Foundation.


Ed Ruscha publishes Twentysix Gasoline Stations, a straightforward series of photos taken while the artist traveled back and forth between Los Angeles and Oklahoma.


Photograph by Ed Ruscha.


Joel Meyerowitz and Garry Winogrand both take photographic road trips, eventually meeting up during their travels.


Photograph by Garry Winogrand. The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco and the Collection Center for Creative Photography, the University of Arizona.


William Eggleston begins experimenting with color photography, and will go on to take many iconic American photos on the road.

Photograph by William Eggleston. Image courtesy of Tate.


Jacob Holdt begins a five-year journey around the U.S., taking over 15,000 photos.

Photograph by Jacob Holdt.


Lee Friedlander publishes American Monument, a project undertaken on the road in the 1960s and 70s.

Lee Friedlander, Father Duffy, Times Square, New York, New York, 1974. Courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.


Stephen Shore publishes Uncommon Places, a book of color photographs taken during multiple road trips in the 1970s.


Stephen Shore, Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, California, June 21, 1975


William Least Heat-Moon publishes the road trip memoir Blue Highways.

Image courtesy of Back Bay Books.


Bill Bryson publishes The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, a humorous account of two road trips the author took in 1987 and 1988.

Image courtesy of Penguin Books. Cover design by Neil Gower based on Edward Hopper's 1940 painting, Gas.


Alec Soth publishes Sleeping by the Mississippi, a series of large-format photos taken during a north-to-south road trip along the Mississippi River.

Alec Soth, Peter's houseboat. Winona, Minnesota, USA. 2002. © Alec Soth | Magnum Photos.


Justine Kurland begins living on the road with her young son, photographing people on the fringes of society.

Justine Kurland, Like a Black Snake, 2008. Courtesy Mitchell-Innes and Nash Gallery, New York.


Ryan McGinley exhibits a series of semi-staged photos created on the road and inspired by the legacy of American road trip imagery at Team Gallery in New York. The exhibition is called I Know Where the Summer Goes.

Ryan McGinley, Highway, 2007-08. Collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Museum purchase, The Friends of Art Endowment Fund.


Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs (TONK) publish The Great Unreal, a surreal, analogically manipulated series of photographs playing with the tropes of American road trip photography.

Photograph by Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs (TONK).


Aaron Rothman, Taiyo Onorato, and Nico Krebs, “The Great Unreal, and Other Fictions,” Places Journal, February 2015. Accessed 06 Nov 2018.


"Alec Soth | Photographer Profile | Magnum Photos." Magnum Photos. Accessed November 28, 2018.


Auping, Michael, Richard E. Prince, and Edward Ruscha. Ed Ruscha: Road Tested. Fort Worth, TX: Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 2011.


Bech-Petersen, Ole. "The Fatalistic Hobo: Jacob Holdt, Touring, and the Other Americans." American Studies International 38, no. 1 (February 2000): 4-25. Accessed November 27, 2018.


Bryson, Bill. The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-town America. London: Black Swan, 2015.


Britannica School, s.v. "Robert Frank," accessed November 27, 2018,


Campany, David. The Open Road: Photography & the American Road Trip. New York, NY: Aperture Foundation, 2014.


Cendo, Nicolas, and Françoise Bonnefoy. Edward Hopper. Secaucus, NJ: Wellfleet Press, 1989.


Cowart, Jack, and Juan Hamilton. Georgia O'Keeffe: Art and Letters. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1987.


Duncan, Dayton, and Ken Burns. Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.


Evans, Walker, and Lincoln Kirstein. Walker Evans: American Photographs. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2012.


Frank, Robert, and Jack Kerouac. The Americans. New York: SCALO Publishers, 1993.


Frazier, Nancy. Georgia OKeeffe. North Dighton, MA: JG Press/World Publications Group, 2005.


Levin, Gail, and Gail Levin. Edward Hopper: The Art and the Artist. New York: Norton, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1982.


"Neil Gower on His Bill Bryson Covers." Penguin by Design. December 11, 2015. Accessed November 28, 2018.


Steinbeck, John, and Jay Parini. Travels with Charley in Search of America. New York: Penguin Books, 2012.


"Street photography." Britannica Academic, Encyclopædia Britannica, 26 Sep. 2014. Accessed 30 Oct. 2018.

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