MoCP Chicago

Museum of Contemporary Photography / Columbia College Chicago | 600 S. Michigan Ave
IL-60605 Chicago

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press release

The Museum of Contemporary Photography is pleased to present several coordinated exhibitions in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road. This is part of a year-long College-wide celebration of Beat culture. The centerpiece of this activity will be the original manuscript scroll of On the Road, on view at the Center for Book and Paper Arts.

The first MOCP exhibition is of the museum’s holdings of social documentary work commissioned by the U.S. government during the Great Depression. The project, under the History Section of the Farm Security Administration, was intended to convince the public that Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s various corrective plans under the Works Progress Administration were indeed necessary, instead of a government bailout as characterized by FDR’s Republican opponents.

Beginning with Dorothea Lange, seventeen photographers were hired from 1935 through 1943 who fanned out across the country and produced tens of thousands of negatives now held by the Library of Congress. The Museum is fortunate to have strong holdings by all of the major photographers working for the FSA. Many of these document the exodus of jobless people, on the road from east to west, either to work as migrant laborers or on WPA sites such as the Grand Coulee and Fort Peck dams. This model of relocation and self redefinition, both individually and nationally, well described by John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath, is the background and subtext for Kerouac’s On the Road describing his experiences of 1947, just a few years later.

The MoCP will also exhibit an expanded view of the work of Dorothea Lange, both during and after her work for the FSA. The Museum’s collection of her work is the result of a major gift from her family.

Complementing these exhibitions are images from Robert Frank’s book The Americans, published at the same time as On the Road and with an introduction by Kerouac. In a sense, the America that Kerouac the native son college student saw, and Frank the older Swiss immigrant artist saw, was equally strange to them. Their way of describing and interpreting what they saw, however, was quite different.

On The Road: Farm Security Administration; Dorothea Lange; Robert Frank