In the early 1980s, poet Jonathan Williams invited photographers Guy Mendes and Roger Manley to hit the road “to document what tickled us, what moved us, and what (sometimes) appalled us in the Southeastern United States.” This exhibition brings to life their resulting encounters with self-taught artists who “make up beauty out of the air and out of nowhere,” such as Howard Finster, Mose Tolliver, Thornton Dial, and Mary T. Smith, along with dozens of others.

Williams had intended for Mendes’s and Manley’s photographs to illustrate the poetic, often humorous reflections he compiled into a guidebook—“a true Wonder Book, a guide for a certain kind of imagination.” He titled it Walks to the Paradise Garden to honor Finster and his Edenic art environment as well as the many other artists who were “directly involved with making paradise for themselves.”

For the first time, Way Out There brings together Mendes’s and Manley’s enthralling photographs, works in the High’s permanent collection by some of the artists they profiled, and excerpts from Williams’s book, which recently was published. This exhibition takes its name from a title Mendes preferred for the book, Way Out People Way Out There, which alludes to both the highly original mindsets of the featured artists as well as their geographical distance from conventional art-world capitals.