The road has featured prominently in art and literature as a means to get characters from one place to another, and as a stage for narratives to be played out. It has been used as a symbol for:
- notion of a journey – attaining greater understanding and with a coming of age, as explored in The Road to Perdition (2002) directed by Sam Mendes, for example.
- symbol of liberation and means of exploration and adventure, by permitting its users to travel freely from place to place, as in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) or Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (1969). Endless ‘road movies’ have perpetuated the ideology of America as a unified place of opportunity and escape.
- unfamiliar – change of pace (for instance by walking instead of driving) brings out a sense of the unheimliche; something very familiar by one means of transport can feel alien when experienced by another. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006); Chris Coekin’s photographic project The Hitcher.
- environmental damage and climate change – particularly with cars. Lee Friedlander monograph America by Car (2010)
- cultural exploration American Photographs (1938) by Walker Evans (1903–75) and Les Américains (1958) by Robert Frank; Paul Graham A1 – The Great North Road ; Chris Coekin’s monograph The Hitcher (2007)
Rivers have also been used to define routes to structure photographic exploration.