Jessica Lange Opens New York Photo Exhibition With Pictures of the South

ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images
Jessica Lange

"I can go in places where people don’t recognize me. It's nice. There's always the camera between the place or person you're photographing," she told The Hollywood Reporter.

A selection of Jessica Lange’s photographs from her latest book, Highway 61, published by PowerHouse, are on show at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York. It’s the third book of photography from the Oscar-winning actress, following her debut monograph 50 Photographs in 2008 and In Mexico in 2010, along with a children’s book she published in 2013, It’s About a Little Bird. The exhibition, her second at Howard Greenberg, will be on show until Jan. 18.

“I was very pleased with how the book actually turned out. I like the layout, the design, the sequencing, all the physical things, so it’s one of those rare moments where you’re pleased with the result,” Lange told The Hollywood Reporter at an opening reception for the exhibition on Thursday.

The book is a culmination of the various trips Lange has taken on Highway 61, the historic interstate highway that runs from the Canadian border, 1,600 miles along the Mississippi River, through the American Midwest and South, and down to New Orleans, covering eight states. “These photographs are a chronicle of what remains and what has disappeared. It has a long memory, Highway 61,” said Lange. The book, with its 84 black-and-white photos, acts as a tribute of sorts to a road Lange has traveled countlessly, from the time she was a child, born and raised in Cloquet, Minnesota, 70 years ago. It’s a testimony, too, to where she has been and who she has become.

“Only about a third of the book is here, on these walls,” she said. “We had to do a hard edit, go through carefully and choose which ones to put up. It’s interesting to me that [the gallery] chose not to do it geographically, as the photos are laid out in the book.” Lange, who has a cabin in Minnesota and lived in New Orleans when she was shooting American Horror Story, for which she won two of her three Emmys, traveled the route frequently over the past seven years, taking photographs of the people and places she saw. “I took probably, over the years, maybe eight to 10 trips up and down that highway. I had my cabin in Minnesota and I was living in New Orleans, so I went back and forth a lot of times,” she said. 

The photos, informed by the light and the emotion of the scene, are arranged throughout the main area of the gallery. “Some images are much more recent than others, some are more deliberate and some are from contact sheets that I did much longer ago,” she said. Lange, who stars in Netflix’s The Politician, likes the degree of anonymity that being behind a camera affords her. “I can go in places where people don’t recognize me, it’s nice. There’s always the camera between the place or person you’re photographing."

Susan Sarandon, who starred alongside Lange as the Bette Davis to her Joan Crawford in Feud: Bette and Joan, attended the reception (the gallery, coincidentally, happens to be in the same building as her dentist). “I'd seen the book already, so I’m not shocked by the images,” Sarandon told THR. “This is beautifully curated. The prints are gorgeous when you see them in person. She’s a very gifted photographer, traveling through America this way."

Gallery owner Howard Greenberg says he has noticed a slight difference with this set of photographs from the ones that were part of a previous exhibition Lange had at the venue almost a decade ago. “If there’s a difference at all, it's a little more documentary, a little more of the people which she encountered and more of a portraiture response,” he told THR. In notes to accompany the exhibition, Lange has commented that “long stretches of 61 are empty, forlorn, as if in mourning for what has gone missing — the hometowns, the neighborhoods, family farms, factories and mills.”

Although she studied photography at the University of Minnesota, after winning a scholarship to study the arts, Lange really developed her passion for it when she was given a Leica in the 1990s by her partner of 26 years, the late playwright and actor Sam Shepard. She dedicated Highway 61 to Shepard.

"It’s a great counterpoint to filmmaking, because it's a private, solitary experience. It's like writing or painting; it's something you can do on your own," she said in a statement to accompany the exhibition. "Acting is a co-dependent art form, and the actor is not in control. And filmmaking definitely informs the decision to photograph something. I’m drawn to situations with a dramatic feel to them as far as lighting or backdrop or people’s presence, the way someone stands."