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Photographs that are about the people and places in them rather than being Photographs,
This review is from: Robert Frank: The Americans (Hardcover)
In 2010 I went to see a talk by Germain Greer at Nottingham Contemporary about the Photographer Diane Arbus where instead of praising that photographer for the humanity in her images she compared them with photographers who came before her who she said had much more humanity in their pictures, one of the photographers was Robert Frank.
I love this book so much because it attempts to distill a country as geographically and culturally huge as the USA into 83 images taken from the 28,000 that Frank took while shooting for the book. And what you get is a rough, always shifting, picture of a disparate society made up of highly emotive slices of the most real people's lives from every strata.
Every single person that you see raises questions about their story, what was the reality of their lives and what became of them because, while Frank is clearly a technically proficient photographer, showing that and showing himself and setting a signature are distant priorities to showing these people's lives and the towns and cities that they live in. He's not afraid to include images that are blurred or limited by conditions if that tells the most emotive story.
The book does have narratives and sets images in order to reflect themes but most importantly you get a sense of a country already bafflingly complicated in it's diversity, an exercise that would be even more unmanageable but equally as revealing to take on today. The reaction at the time was that the book was unflatering, especially when produced by a foreigner but Frank isn't damning America, he may be exploring different beauties to the ones that are explored in other media but he is telling us a lot about people and their lives in the mid twentieth century, things that are in common with our experiences today.
In terms of editions, my advice is to read a borrowed copy of the book, then buy Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans Make sure you get the hardback edition as the paper-back is abridged. Used, this book can be cheaper than 'The Americans' on it's own but either way it is a mind-blowing expansion of the project, countless documents (Kerouac's written introduction) plus not only the highly revealing contact sheets for most of the images used, showing the adjacent images not chosen, but thumbnails of each image showing how each has been cropped for publication to each edition. This book is enormous in physical size and scope and while it contains beautifully printed rendiditons of all of 'The Americans' images, I would suggest having a separate copy (You can pick up a nicely printed Chinese edition for a lot less than the English Language equivalent Robert Frank: The Americans : Chinese Edition)but you really need a side-by-side reference to not keep flipping back in a large book.
In terms of appreciation, The Americans is something I keep picking up and spending an hour or more with at a time thinking about the people in the images. In terms of photography it tells you to think less about what your image will look like and more about what will be IN your image.