DULUTH, Minn. — When Jessica Lange finally admitted that her driving was a bit unpredictable it came as a relief. I was afraid to bring it up from the passenger seat.
“My kids used to say, ‘Mom, pick a lane!’” the two-time Oscar winner said, chuckling.
On a day with silvery light coming through clouds and Lake Superior to our right, she was piloting us northward from Duluth, on Highway 61. We had a perfect car for an August road trip: her green 1967 Mercedes-Benz 250S, heavy as a tank and with seatbelts of questionable functionality.
But Ms. Lange exuded confidence and so I didn’t worry too much. She knew where she was going.
For her, a Minnesota native who summers in what she called a cabin an hour or so away, Highway 61 was more than a conveyance; it was a creative wellspring dating back to her childhood.
In fact, this was Ms. Lange’s third trip along this route over the summer, toward towns with names like Castle Danger and Beaver Bay, past dense stands of trees and signs for smoked fish and homemade pies. The road itself is the subject of her latest book of photographs, “Highway 61,” which comes out Oct. 1.
Inside, the 84 black-and-white photographs document all manner of life along 61, which runs — first as a state road, then for most of its route as a United States highway — from the Canadian border down to New Orleans, a city where she lived and owned a home for a time. She was born in the town of Cloquet, Minn., and the route was a central artery for her family, but the book also chronicles the changes she has witnessed — stretches of the road that she describes as “empty, forlorn, as if in mourning for what has gone missing.”