Discovering classic photo art
For some reason I hadn’t heard until recently of Robert Frank’s book ‘The Americans’, the selected photos of his year-long trip around the United States in 1955/56. However I was able to buy a reprint relatively cheaply online recently after I HAD heard of it, and all I can say is WOW. Jack Kerouac introduction, and some incredible photographs within-HUGE sense of atmosphere.
What is so interesting about Frank to my mind is his capacity as a foreigner to ‘see’ the US differently, and also the huge outrage his book caused when it first came out. It’s a deeply political piece of work, despite not a single explicit written political statement in the whole thing, and a lot of people did NOT like story they felt it was telling. The repulsion also arose from Frank’s style; his selection of the mundane, his choice of editing, the embrace of blurring, streaks, reflections, and imperfections in his photography, his full use of all the possibilities of B&W including grain and overexposure. What’s most interesting in retrospect is the heavy criticism he got for these aspects of his work-for his use of focus for example.
To me, Frank has PERFECT use of focus, even when he chops off a person’s head it somehow works, but it really upset some of his contemporaries.
Perhaps even more impressive, however, is his selection of photos as a sequence; there are plenty of individual shots in the book which are not necessarily great shots in isolation, but ARE great in the sense of rhythm they create, sometimes just as a breathing space.
This is a book I’m going to return to again and again.