Robert Frank’s and Todd Webb’s parallel 1955 projects to photograph America are considered in the context of mid-twentieth-century American culture
In 1955 two photographers were awarded grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation to embark on trips across the United States. Robert Frank (1924–2019) drove coast to coast, photographing the highways, bars, and people that formed the basis for his widely admired publication The Americans (1958). Todd Webb (1905–2000) walked across the country, searching for “vanishing Americana and what is taking its place.”
Unaware of each other’s work, the photographers produced strikingly similar images of the highway, parades, and dim, smoky barrooms. Yet while Frank’s grainy, off-kilter style revealed many inequities of American life, Webb’s carefully composed images embraced clear detail and celebrated the individual oddities of Americans and their locales.
This revelatory book is the first to publish Webb’s 1955 photographs and connects these parallel projects for the first time. More than one hundred images accompany text illuminating Frank’s and Webb’s different perspectives and approaches to similar subjects and places; the difference in reception of Frank’s iconic work and Webb’s relatively unknown series; and the place of the road trip in shaping American identity at midcentury.
Published in association with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (October 8, 2023–January 7, 2024)
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts (February 10–July 30, 2024)
Brandywine Museum of Art, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania (February 8–May 4, 2025)
Lisa Volpe is curator of photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Susan Straight is a writer whose books include Highwire Moon (2001), a finalist for the National Book Award, and Mecca (2022).
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