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The Open Road by David Campany

A review of the photography book The Open Road by David Campany. The book is gorgeous, a beautiful red color, plus the titles and design throughout is wonderful. The Open Road is large, measuring over 12″ x 10″ and 336 pages. If you know the size of Magnum Contacts Sheets book its the same size, just not quite as thick.

Robert Frank in The Open Road
Robert Frank in The Open Road

The book focuses on the American road trip and the role it played in numerous photographers’ life, giving us wonderful series from The Americans by Robert Frank to Sleeping by the Mississippi by Alec Soth.

The Open Road is a compilation work of various artists, each getting their own featured section consisting of a brief synopsis of their road trip and followed by a handful of photos, around 6-12 per photographer. The sections are organized by year, starting with Robert Frank’s seminal work.

Garry Winogrand in The Open Road
Garry Winogrand in The Open Road

The photographers featured in order are:

An issue I have with compilation books, which also applies to anthologies and best of work, they leave you wanting more from the original series. They only show you a sampling, for example 7 photos from The Americans is just not enough; these are good introductions to the artists and whets the appetite.

On the flip side, the good thing about this compilation is it introduces you to new photographers, there are several in the book I haven’t seen before and will explore further.

The book has a fair amount of writing in it, going into the history of road trips and background and info on each of the 18 artists. I’ll be honest I haven’t read all of it, which is one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to get this review out. I was aiming to have it out at the beginning of summer, not the end.

The selection of photographers and photos are great, Eggleston, Shore, and Sternfeld are three of my all-time favorites. I really like that it bridges the decades of American road trips showing 50+ years of work and how it is changing especially with the recent work.

William Eggleston title page in The Open Road
William Eggleston title page in The Open Road
William Eggleston photos in The Open Road
William Eggleston photos in The Open Road
Stephen Shore photos in The Open Road
Stephen Shore photos in The Open Road
Joel Sternfeld photos in The Open Road
Joel Sternfeld photos in The Open Road

Todd Hido has beautiful scenery but feels a bit out of place with all the other sharp photos. Hido still focuses on place and scenery just with dreamy out-of-focus shots giving an opinionated mood. I think his might be the only series that does not include any people.

Including Hido might be a view on how road trip photography is transforming, less documentary style and more photographer vision and imprint stamped on it.

Todd Hido photos in The Open Road
Todd Hido photos in The Open Road

Ryan McGinley’s work is an even starker contrast to the other work in the book. While McGinley’s photos includes people it really focuses on the “me”; the people taking the road trip and not necessarily where they are going or what they are seeing. The photos show people having fun and playing, the where is not the focus, it could be anywhere. The rest of the photography in the book explores where they are going, what they are seeing, and focuses externally.

Ryan McGinley photo in The Open Road
Ryan McGinley photo in The Open Road

This is an interesting aspect when combining multiple photographers around the same theme. You can see how they approach and photograph common territory in different ways.

One part I really liked was the inclusion of the maps charting where each of the photographers traveled on their trips. It was a surprise to have it at the end, could’ve been included in the photographer’s section to give more context, but great to see either way.

Robert Frank map in The Open Road
Robert Frank map in The Open Road
Stephen Shore map in The Open Road
Stephen Shore map in The Open Road

The Open Road is a wonderful book, worth checking out for sure especially if you don’t already have many other books from these photographers.

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