On the occasion of Paris Photo 2023, Jessica Lange’s “Highway 61” photography series exhibit pays homage to the historic road that has been a constant in her life since her early days in northern Minnesota.
At age 18, Lange embarked on a Greyhound bus trip from her hometown of Cloquet, Minnesota, south on Highway 61 to discover Europe and beyond. This crucial year was 1967, a time of profound change in the air. America was transforming, just as fellow Minnesotan Bob Dylan had prophesied in his iconic 1965 album, “Highway 61 Revisited” – the first album Lange ever purchased.
This legendary highway serves as a common thread in Lange’s life, marking her travels, her identity and her evolution, while also bearing witness to the transformations that have shaped the United States over the past 70 years.
Highway 61 begins northeast of Minneapolis and extends 1,600 miles along the Mississippi River, spanning the Midwest and American South, passing through eight states before reaching New Orleans.
Lange invites us to join her on this odyssey, creating a timeless portrait of America reminiscent of the work of Robert Frank. Her photographs offer a subtle and perceptive view of the human experience, revealing a sense of unity among the working class that was instrumental in building this nation from the ground up.
She explores motels, roadside produce stands, local bars, vintage diners, amusement parks, farms, private residences, markets, and often strolls the streets like a normal person, rather than a Hollywood luminary.
Her photographic series reveals a deep and lasting connection that Lange maintains with the people and places of this region of America.
Lange noted that “long stretches of Highway 61 appear empty and desolate, as if mourning the loss of hometowns, neighborhoods, family farms, factories and mills.”
While Lange easily immerses herself in the environment, people willingly pose for her camera. However, there is a melancholy undertone that pervades her work, a quiet longing for connection that underlines her heartfelt dedication at the beginning of her book. “For Sam,” Lange writes to her late husband, Sam Shepard, who passed away in 2017. This devotion permeates every image she captures of her, infusing her photographs of her with a profound sense of love, hope, and faith.
“Photography,” Lange observed, “offers a great contrast to filmmaking because it is a private, solitary activity. It’s similar to writing or painting; it’s something you can do independently. Acting is a form of collaborative art and the actors have no control. Filmmaking definitely influences the decision to photograph something. I’m attracted to situations with a dramatic atmosphere in terms of lighting, background or presence of people, the way someone stands.”
About the Author
Jessica Lange, originally from Cloquet, Minnesota, studied photography at the University of Minnesota after receiving an art scholarship.
Her photographs have been exhibited in prestigious venues such as George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, in 2009; the Moscow Museum of Multimedia Art, 2014; Santa Mònica Art Center in Barcelona, 2015; and the Centro Cultural de Cascais in Portugal, 2015, among others. She was honored as the first recipient of the George Eastman House Honors Award in 2009.
Lange’s foray into photography began in the 1990s when her partner of 26 years, the late playwright and actor Sam Shepard, gave her a Leica camera. She dedicates her book “Highway 61” to Shepard.
An Oscar-winning actress, Lange is renowned for her roles in iconic films such as King Kong, Tootsie, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Frances, Blue Sky and Gray Gardens.
She has achieved the Triple Crown of Acting, a distinction held by only 13 actresses in history, having earned two Academy Awards, three Primetime Emmy Awards, a Tony Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award and five Golden Globe Awards.
Jessica Lange: Highway 61
7- 10 November 2023
Alta in Paris – Andorran Embassy in Paris – France