MAIN STREET: The Lost Dream of Route 66, is an exhibition of photographs by Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer Edward Keating. The exhibition is accompanied by Keating’s eponymous book of 84 photographs (Damiani, 2018).
MAIN STREET is the result of 11 years of traveling along Route 66 — the 2,400 mile highway connecting Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. Called the “mother road” in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Route 66 has inspired countless artists and writers, including Andy Warhol and Jack Kerouac. Following the path of migrant farmers and others, Keating has ventured westward and back along Route 66, documenting the lives of Americans along the way.
Keating approaches the route as both a journalist and memoirist. His photographs bring attention to the lives and myths scattered along the stretch of Route 66, and serve as a metaphor for the deterioration of middle-class America. According to New York Times journalist Charles LeDuff, MAIN STREET “is about those who traveled its length and those who settled along the way, wherever their bones and their broken cars dropped them.”
The exhibition is also personal mythology, constructed from the artist’s own recollections of the road: Keating’s mother grew up in Saint Louis along Route 66 where her father owned the city’s first Ford dealership. In his early 20s, he embarked on a cross-country trip on Route 66, but found himself, rock-bottom, in a broken-down motel in Flagstaff, Arizona. In 2000, he returned to Route 66 as a New York Times staff photographer, traversing all 2,400 miles in three weeks. The book is a milestone for an artist who has spent a life wandering along the main streets and back roads of America’s most mythic highway.
Keating served as a photojournalist for nearly 40 years for such publications as New York Times, Forbes and Business Week. He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for the 1997 series “Vows,” co-authored with Lois Smith Brady, and he shared with NYT staff the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for the series, “How Race is Lived in America.” In 2001, Keating received the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography, as well as the John Faber Award for International Reporting, Overseas Press Club, for his series of photographs on the September 11 attacks. In 2003, Keating joined Contact Press Images photography agency. MAIN STREET was Keating’s sixth monograph. Tragically, Keating died of cancer in September 2021, contracted as a result of his exposure to toxic materials at Ground Zero in the days after 9/11. He was 65 years of age.