4 - 9 - 2010
History of Photography
Book Review: Robert Frank - The Americans
There is no question as to why this book, or collection of photographs, is of legendary status among photographers, Americans, and the world alike. In 1955 and 1956 Robert Frank, on a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation, created this absolutely extraordinary collection simply portraying all that is American and even all that is human within us. His focus on the sadness and the mundane of our world along with the race issues and class issues of the time come together beautifully in his series in what Jack Kerouac calls "the EVERYTHING-ness" in his beautifully composed introduction. This is documentation in its purest form of our world as Americans.
The way that this series is put together in the form of a book lends itself to be thought of in the order that the photos were taken. This is obviously not the case finding many images from parts of South Carolina and California and the Midwest strewn about the book. It seems that the images were ordered more so in a way to show the contrast between classes and races and the glamorous to the everyday scenes. Early on in the book on page 29, an image from a movie premiere in Hollywood puts all of the focus on the beautiful actress, as most premiere events tend to do. But later on, on page 143 you come across a shot from the same premiere, which still shows an actress but keeps her out of focus and instead turns the focus to the crowd of fans watching eagerly from the side while the actress wears a frown. These two photographs perfectly portray America in the way that people can be together, yet completely separated at the same time. Being separated in the book also brings a nice parallel to the theme that the two side by side could not. The viewer can flip through the book and swear they saw the same image earlier and flip back and then see the obvious meaning of the two.
Another set of images works in an entirely different way to convey the same theme. On page 145 there is an image from a charity ball in New York City. The focus is on a woman who is well made-up wearing a sequined dress and fancy jewelry holding a cigarette while receiving a friendly kiss on the cheek from a male she has acquainted. She is seated at a table that holds her purse, a bottle of champagne and a candle while socialites mingle out of focus in the background. The image on the next page is composed in almost the exact same fashion, yet it is of a man eating at a cafeteria in San Francisco. The man is not dirty by any means, but his clothing evokes a sense of lower middle class. He seems to be partaking in an ordinary meal of meat and vegetables. He is holding his fork as he seems to have just taken a bite and the table he is seated at holds his tray of food and the regular saltshakers and coke bottles. He is shaven but has a shadow and seems more intent on his meal than anything. The way that...