Separating Interesting from Extraordinary: New Nelson exhibit showcases photographs taken while traveling across the states


Grace Alford

When you enter the exhibit, you can view this sign.

Grace Alford, Staff Writer

Broken and abandoned buildings, gas stations, automobiles, and nostalgia are a few themes that I was able to view at the new Nelson Atkins exhibit.

“Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow” is a photography exhibit that opened at the Nelson Atkins museum on May 7. It showcases 60 photographs taken between the years 1967-1977 while Dow traveled throughout the United States. There are also 16 other photographs in the exhibit that showcase Dow’s more recent and in-color works. 

The exhibit is located on the entrance floor of the museum and is one of the back galleries, a perfect way to get my daily steps in without being overly tired when I reach the exhibit. 

The gallery is organized with Dow’s oldest photographs at the beginning with his more recent works further into the exhibit – a nice touch that allowed me to feel as if I was progressing with the artist.

A piece that really intrigued me was a journal of Dow’s that contained detailed descriptions of his routes while traveling from years 1972-1976. It is rightfully located front and center in the exhibit, making it impossible to miss.

While some of the photographs had their own descriptions to the side of the pieces, some were left without the descriptions, leaving my imagination to come up with an explanation for what I was observing. While it might be seen as a nice touch, I felt sort of lost when wanting to know more about certain pieces.

The repeated theme of nostalgia allows for almost all of the pieces to be easily related to, which is a nice touch to the exhibit. 

Although the photographs may have been taken over 45 years ago, this doesn’t make it impossible for me to feel something when looking at them. A certain piece that caught my attention was a photograph of a sign depicting a young boy getting a shot. When reading the information next to it, I learned that this was a sign that promoted vaccinations and shots as part of a public health and safety campaign. This really resonated with me because of the recent vaccinations for COVID-19.

When compared to other galleries at the museum, it proves to be more of a chore than a destination. The photographs are good, but the repetitive nature causes it to get old very quickly.

While it was an overall interesting and thought provoking exhibit, it’s not something to travel long distances for, especially when viewers can see many of the photographs online. If you’re planning to visit the Nelson Atkins museum however, it’s worth stopping to see.