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I was lucky enough to be given a copy of The Americans as a birthday present in 1960 and its always been one of my favorite photo books. Now, with this huge book, the original becomes even more fascinating and intriguing.
To be able to see Robert Frank's application to the Guggenheim, letters to Walker Evans and Jack Kerouac, a map and itinerary for the photo journey across America and his original working sequence of prints for the book puts the eighty-three photos in perspective. Sarah Greenhough's four essays (she is one of the seven contributors) puts him in the context of the Cold War and consumer culture times and I thought her essay about the opposition to The Americans particularly interesting (the Family of Man exhibition had a lot to answer for, though Frank had seven photos in it).
She also writes about various editions and the different printing techniques that were used. This turns out to be rather important because the viewer's perception of the photos can vary according to what copy they see. The original French and Grove Press editions were printed gravure and many of the photos were tightly cropped so that they were perceived as hard-edge images of America. Later editions, from Aperture (two) Pantheon, Scalo and Steidl sometimes used larger photos with less severe cropping. All of this is revealed in the back of the book with thumbnails of the original photos with repeats to show how the various editions presented their versions. The reality is that black and white prints cannot adequately be printed in one black pass through a press, to do it properly they have to be duotones or tritones.Read more ›
By consensus Frank's The Americans is perhaps the most important photo book of the last half century even though those who don't have a clear sense of what was available before and after may not fully understand why. Indeed, his style (in its most generic sense) has become so mainstream or at least popular that his book seems quite tame, almost banal. Looking In (and the exhibit it references) is essential for understanding the context and influence of the Frank book. In the first instance it makes clear why so many of the photos in the Frank book are important and ultimately unsettling. There are lucid discussions of his choices in making, developing, and presenting the photos. It also provides a nice set of essays tracing Frank's career and the various journeys he took while making the photos. Essays on the folks who influenced him (especially Walker Evans) are quite illuminating. The volume also contains many of the pictures he took before The Americans, a bonus, as well as all those in The Americans. Thus for those who do not own the original book,this volume contains the original at relatively little extra cost (maybe $10) (but in a much larger and heavier format). The hardcover edition contains some extra material, mostly as I recall contact prints which allow comparisons of versions chosen for the book with similar ones not. For my purposes the paperback version contains the essential material and is much cheaper. The actual exhibit (which I saw in San Francisco and is now in NYC) did a nice job of explaining the sequencing of the photos (Frank was obsessed with this) and providing some insights into why certain photos are important. The exhibit notes were more focused that those in Looking In and I found the exhibit notes more helpful. However, bottom line is that this is essential reading (and looking) for anyone with more than a passing interest in modern photography, especially those who cannot see the exhibit.
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This is a wonderful publication that reveals the essence of who Robert Frank, one of the world's greatest photographers, is. From the excellent essays at the beginning of the book to his detailed contact sheets at the end, this book carefully chronicles some of the most important works of this artistic genius. As one goes through the book repeatedly, new insights and understanding of Robert Frank and his work continue to be revealed. It combines academic and aesthetic value as do few other books on photography. It is quite a tome but a great buy at the price offered online.
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A wonderful edition of a classic. This book is bigger than a telephone directory, so the photos that make up the published version of The Americans are only a small part of it. Around those are many other images from Frank's early career, maps, the contact sheets from his three trips, and a good deal of other documentation. But the bulk of the book is made up by a series of very scholarly essays: on Frank's development before and after The Americans, on his connections with other photographers, with Kerouac and the Beat poets and so on. A more or less encyclopedic treatment.
Get it. It is an education in one volume.
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Ms Greenough has outdone herself in creating the most thorough, broadest, and deepest attempt to analyze a single work of art. This book sets a new standard for what a similarly intended book can be, not just for one work by one artist, but books about a single artist, a group, or a genre of art.
There are several brilliant critical books on any number of artists now. But this one, even at full price, has arguably the best price-performance ratio of any. This book is a steal, hands down.
Including all of the plates and all of the contact sheets for each plate in "Americans" is a curious photographer's dream, never realized, to this reviewer's knowledge, until this book.
The publisher, Steidl, deserves, too, high praise for taking on this tome and for the quality of so many of its recent publications on Frank, Leiter, and so many others. Steidl is currently among the top very few highest quality publishers of significant photography.