In Memory of Photographer Robert Frank
September 9, 2019 witnessed the passing of one of the world's great photojournalists: Robert Frank. To this day he is best known for his book: The Americans - the most famous photography book ever published--one that changed the face of the medium forever. [Publisher]
This seminal book of photojournalism was created with the help of a Guggenheim Fellowship, giving Frank the freedom to drive around the country in 1955, carried by the whims of fate, pointing his lens as he was inspired. The result was something like 28,000 photos that would be distilled down 1000 images, further paired down to the 83 photos printed in a single book that would be translated and published around the world. It was first published in French in 1958 as Les Américains by R. Delpire.
Initial reception of the book was harsh, with photographer Minor White describing it as "a degradation of a nation” while Popular Photography called it “a wart-covered picture of America by a joyless man.” At a time when popular magazines such as Life were portraying a polished and peaceful nation, Frank captured intentionally unglamorous images of everyday people in their very average lives, using unconventional techniques. Even MoMA didn't want to carry the book at first, and it quickly dropped out of print with only 1100 copies sold.
"It’s hard to stress how different The Americans was... On a technical level, he brazenly tossed out an adherence to traditional ideas of composition, framing, focus, and exposure." [artsy] We can see today that this is exactly what inspired a new photography movement, inspiring numerous photographers in the years to follow. It also helped to trigger the migration from strictly portrait photos to include snapshots as photographic art.
Robert Frank's masterpiece continues to hold its own today--the selection of photos, and their sequence and pacing is fresh, rich, generous, and stunning. Contemporary photographer Bruce Davidson was strongly influenced by the book, and wrote this about it: “It didn’t hit me politically, it was lyrical, it was poetic and it was interesting and it was true. And it was an amazing body of work,” says Davidson. “Even then, I was a little afraid of it. It was really America in the rough. It was an America we refused to look at.” [Guardian]
Robert Frank (1924-2019) was a Swiss-born American photographer and documentary filmmaker. He initially honed his craft in commercial photography--work that paid the bills until he could branch off on his own. After setting this book loose into the world, he turned his artist's eye to the medium of film. [Wikipedia]
Panoply Books has just listed a SIGNED copy of the 2008 edition by Steidl! (12 Sept 2019)