Robert Frank and Todd Webb: Across America, 1955 October 8, 2023–January 7, 2024
Included with general admission.
In 1955, two photographers received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation for U.S. survey projects: Robert Frank and Todd Webb. Frank’s cross-country trip by car would result in the celebrated book The Americans. Webb was awarded a grant to walk, boat, and bike across the United States to depict “vanishing Americana, and the way of life that is taking its place.”
Though the men had no knowledge of each other during the application process, both secured a recommendation from famed photographer Walker Evans, and both completed their cross-country surveys—though in radically different ways. Frank’s resulting work became a landmark text in the history of photography, and Webb’s project remains almost entirely unknown. Robert Frank and Todd Webb: Across America, 1955 brings together both 1955 projects for the first time.
In some instances, Frank’s and Webb’s images are strikingly similar—both men took photographs of the highway and dim, smoky barrooms. Because each was unaware of the other’s work, these similarities can be traced to popular cultural trends and shared ideologies. Both men, after all, engaged in projects that challenged the idealistic purity of the “American Roadtrip.” Radically different photographs made in the same location reveal the photographers’ diverse perspectives and approaches.
Frank’s grainy, off-kilter style was matched with his harsh examination of the darker side of American life. An immigrant born in Switzerland, Frank (1924–2019) harnessed his outsider perspective. The tender, carefully composed images created by Detroit-born Webb (1905–2000) celebrated the individual oddities of the American way of life. Ultimately, comparing the work of these photographers reveals the complexity of their projects and the impossibility of capturing a singular vision of “America.”
The illustrated exhibition catalogue is available through the MFA Shop (713.639.7360) and the Museum’s Hirsch Library (713.639.7325).
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Robert Frank and Todd Webb: Across America, 1955 / October 8, 2023–January 7, 2024
This exhibition is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Todd Webb Archive, Portland, Maine.
Major support is provided by:
Andrea Frank Foundation