America on the Move

Review

of an Exhibition

by Hannah Hamill

Published on April 01, 2011

  • Description:

    “America on the Move” is a very large exhibit that is not lacking in imagery to illustrate the broad topic of transportation in America. Most of the photographs had a utilitarian purpose—they were reproductions that accompanied the objects and history in the exhibit—and in my opinion did not really play a huge role in the design of the exhibit.

    The first thing that I noticed about the photographs in relation to the exhibit was that the photographs chosen for the bulk of the exhibit were black and white or sepia-toned. This really helped set the tone for the time period covered in most of the exhibit—the mid to late 1800s and early 1900s, when many major developments in transportation were taking place. The second thing I noticed about the exhibit were what I thought (from afar) were photomurals, but ended up being large illustrations painted on the walls to create a sense of atmosphere. I thought that this was a bit odd, since most history museums that I have been to use historical photographs to create atmosphere instead of illustrations. I’m still not sure how I feel about that—it felt a little bit like the children’s reading room at a public library.

    Some typical uses of photographs were in place in this exhibit, such as super-sized photographs to mark the transition from one section to the next. An interesting use of super-sized photographs was near the middle of the exhibit (near the “Southern Railway” section), where a projector was projecting a large photograph of a port in New York with captions flashing on the wall, giving important dates and other information.

    One use of photographs that I thought was very clever in the exhibit was how they were incorporated into technology and interactive elements. In the “Southern Railway” section, which was set in a train station, two interactive stations were available for visitors to explore the lives of a traveling salesman and of a black woman traveling by train. These stories were supplemented by photographs, which helped me relate more to the historical figures that were being discussed. A similar interactive was at the end of the exhibit and had excerpts from the NPR show “Car Talk.” (Personally, I enjoyed the inclusion of pictures in this portion because I listen to the show every week on the radio, and the photos of the hosts and the cars they discussed made their banter a lot funnier.)

    The final section of the exhibit was a discussion on Los Angeles and the impact of transportation on modern commerce. The use of photographs was very creative in this section and much different than in the other sections. There were several television screens set up with videos and photographs flashing across the screens—an installation that felt very Nam June Paik-inspired. The quickly-transitioning photos echoed the fast-paced feel of Los Angeles and was quite an attention-grabber. In addition to the photos on-screen, there was a large satellite image of the Los Angeles area on the wall, which was an interesting use of photography—the other maps in the exhibit were hand-drawn, and this brightly colored satellite photograph reflected the modern time period.

    Again, most of the photographs in the exhibit were accompanying text labels or illustrating a point rather than acting as a decorative element. I did not feel that the designer made many adjustments to historical images, and for the most part just let the images tell the story without any alteration.

    *Editor’s note: This review was written for a course in exhibition design.

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