03 October 2019 | Taylor Dafoe| Artnet
In Bob Dylan’s song, “Highway 61 Revisited,” from his epochal album of the same name, the famous stretch of road that connects the Canadian border to Louisiana is imagined as a surreal site of escape, murder, and war-mongering.
This was the first album that Jessica Lange, the two-time Academy Award-winning actress and photographer, bought, when she was 16 years old.
Living in Minnesota at the time—Dylan’s home state, too—she knew the highway well, having traveled it countless times throughout her childhood to visit family who lived throughout the eight states bisected by the throughway.
Now, more than five decades later, the actress is revisiting the stretch of road through a new book, Highway 61.
The publication, out now through the publisher powerHouse, includes 84 grainy black-and-white photographs that Lange shot while driving the stretch of road in recent years.
Lange’s vision of the highway, which connects her home in New Orleans to her summer cabin in northern Minnesota, is quite different from Dylan’s.
Instead of a hallucinatory yarn filled with gun-toting, god-fearing characters like Mack the Finger and Louie the King, Lange’s vision is populated with working-class dishwashers and diner patrons, transients and ranch hands, and loitering smokers silhouetted in the streetlight.
Without the book’s afterword, which alludes to the fact that these photos were taken recently, you’d think they depict the middle America of decades ago, like long-lost Robert Frank outtakes.
This is Lange’s third photo book, following a monograph of personal pictures titled 50 Photographs (published in 2008 by powerHouse) and In Mexico (RM, 2010), which included candid photos taken south of the Rio Grande.
The actress studied art and photography at the University of Minnesota on scholarship before dropping out, moving to Europe, and beginning her acting career in Paris. She began taking pictures in earnest again in the mid-‘90s when her partner at the time, actor and playwright Sam Shepard, brought her a Leica camera from Germany.
On October 11, Lange will be signing copies of Highway 61 at Barnes and Noble in New York.
Photos: Highway 61 by Jessica Lange, published by powerHouse Books. Courtesy of the artist and powerHouse Books