Signs of The Times: Photographs of Roadside America by Jim Dow (1967-1977)

On the road looking at signs of quintessential America

Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow


Jim Dow (b. 1942) studied with  Harry Callahan, Walker Evans and Minor White, all masters of black and white photography. With that pedigree you already get a hint of his style and subject matter. His views are of a raw and beguiling America. We see his photographs of signs – American vernacular signage and architecture see along the roadside made between 1967 and 1977.

Dow traveled over 150,000 miles on multiple cross-country road trips, photographing the everyday things of American culture that caught his eye. His pictures make us notice them and recognise their places in the American story.

Via: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kanas City.


Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow

“Fortune Teller” Sign. US 79 & 80, Greenwood, Louisiana, 1975


“Late in the fall of 1965, I met Walker Evans. I had no idea who he was or anything about his work. But his book ‘American Photographs’ completely changed the way I thought about photography. The pictures were descriptive, literate and distinct. They could be read slowly; information was packed into every square inch. They were intense but not dramatic. Rigorous in their making, they demanded attentive scrutiny. It was clear that I had a template for my education through a classic method: at first emulate, then lease the space and ultimately own the process, until taking pictures was no longer a re-enactment. …

“I never travelled around the US to find myself. I went to find people, places and things I didn’t know about. Leaving familiar confines is an outward-facing process best done by car on older two- or three-lane roads, stopping, looking and listening every step of the way.”

– Jim Dow, Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow


Lott’s Grocery Store. US 11, Bessemer, Alabama, 1968

Coffee At It’s Best Sign. US 11, Pittston, Pennsylvania, 1973

“Heated Pool” Sign at Motel. US 99, Bakersfield, California 1975

Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow

Lady Reclining on La-Z-Boy Sign. PA 61, Shamokin, Pennsylvania 1973

Bowling Pin with Arrow. US 1, Branford, Connecticut, 1971

Trailer Park Sign. US 27, Red Bank, Tennessee, 1973

Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow

Detail, Diving Lady Sign. Near US 19, Blairsville, Georgia ,1973

Curlicue Arrow Sign. US 2, near Wenatchee, Washington 1972

Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow

Horse Painting on Sign, Ranch Entrance. US 87, Billings, Montana 1972

Rear of Screen, Van Nuys Drive-In Theatre. Old US 101, Van Nuys, California 1973


Lead photo: US 20, Idaho Falls, Idaho, 1975.

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