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The Americans Hardcover – February, 1998

109 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

Armed with a camera and a fresh cache of film and bankrolled by a Guggenheim Foundation grant, Robert Frank crisscrossed the United States during 1955 and 1956. The photographs he brought back form a portrait of the country at the time and hint at its future. He saw the hope of the future in the faces of a couple at city hall in Reno, Nevada, and the despair of the present in a grimy roofscape. He saw the roiling racial tension, glamour, and beauty, and, perhaps because Frank himself was on the road, he was particularly attuned to Americans' love for cars. Funeral-goers lean against a shiny sedan, lovers kiss on a beach blanket in front of their parked car, young boys perch in the back seat at a drive-in movie. A sports car under a drop cloth is framed by two California palm trees; on the next page, a blanket is draped over a car accident victim's body in Arizona.

Robert Frank's Americans reappear 40 years after they were initially published in this exquisite volume by Scalo. Each photograph (there are more than 80 of them) stands alone on a page, while the caption information is included at the back of the book, allowing viewers an unfettered look at the images. Jack Kerouac's original introduction, commissioned when the photographer showed the writer his work while sitting on a sidewalk one night outside of a party, provides the only accompanying text. Kerouac's words add narrative dimension to Frank's imagery while in turn the photographs themselves perfectly illustrate the writer's own work.

From Publishers Weekly

In this 50th anniversary reissue, celebrated photographer Frank maintains the format (left page: brief caption, right page: photo) and introduction (Jack Kerouac: "with the agility, mystery, genius, sadness and strange secrecy of a shadow Frank photographed scenes that have never been seen before on film"), the images themselves have been re-scanned, re-cropped by Frank and, in two cases, changed. Frank's images, taken all across the country, leave the viewer with a solemn impression of American life. From funerals to drug store cafeterias to parks, Frank recorded every shade of everyday life he encountered: the lower and upper classes, the living and dead, the hopeful and destitute, all the while experimenting with angle, focus and grain to increase impact. Preceding an exhibition that will tour U.S. galleries in 2009, this volume will no doubt introduce new generations to Frank's inimitable record of daily life fifty years ago. Kerouac says, fittingly, that "after seeing these pictures you end up finally not knowing any more whether a jukebox is sadder than a coffin"; those who don't comprehend Kerouac's comment have yet to experience this classic collection. 83 tri-tone plates.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 180 pages
  • Publisher: Scalo Publishers (February 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 3931141802
  • ISBN-13: 978-3931141806
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 9.9 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,023,859 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

121 of 126 people found the following review helpful By Vince Leo on March 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Like an elusive text in search of itself, Robert Frank's 1958 book The Americans has changed format each of the four times it's changed publishers. From the text heavy French version to the oversized aperture reprint, Frank has continued to refine his work each time it appears in print.
In the Scalo version, the place-name captions have been removed from the pages opposite the photographs and collected in the back of the book. Forget any ideas you might have of Frank's book being a travelogue. In place of the itinerary, the Scalo edition finally establishes the ORDER of the book's photographs as the crucial ingredient in Frank's complex vision of America. The 83-photograph sequence cuts between elliptical narrative of the open road and comparative sociology of dead-end lives as Frank turns free association into inescapable logic and then back again. The result is the most masterful combination of photographs in book form.
The subjects of Frank's photographs roam this fractured typology like prophets locked in an unstable time loop. Geography no longer takes center stage as the formative element of their photographic selves. In some small but significant way, the americans in the Scalo edition reclaim the intentionality of their sadness, anger, and alienation. The bitter and often unwilling nature of their engagements with Frank take center stage, each as profound an act of refusal as Frank's own denunciation of the pasteboard optimism of '50s America.
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61 of 62 people found the following review helpful By D. B. Parker on July 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
We're lucky to have this edition. Robert Frank is an old man with health issues now. That he is healthy enough to oversee this work is wonderful. Everything about this edition - especially in comparison to the 2007 Delpine edition I purchased earlier this year - is first-rate. I wish I had known this was coming out!

The book is a little smaller than the Delpine, but that's the only real negative (if it is one) I can think of. The main thing to me is that the photos themselves are how Frank intended them to look. Gone are the overly-lightened faces that plague the Delpine book. This is a pet peeve of mine that kills many photos in this Photoshop age. This is very obvious in the New Orleans trolley photo. In the Delpine work, the faces of the white passengers are totally washed out, and the black faces are awkwardly lightened (someone apparently thought they were helping Frank's work). That's all corrected here. In this Steidl edition things are shown as they were intended. One can even see details in the face of the man at far left, even though it is partially obscured by a window reflection.

Also, on several photos more of the frame is visible. This was most noticeable to me in the Butte, Montana photo of the woman looking out the car window, with several children in the back seat. A good portion of the left side of the photo is now visible, along with more shown on the top and bottom. The new crop just seems more "right." Not too mention that the face of the child in the middle of the photo is too light in the older edition.

Simply put, comparing the two editions is an eye opener. I first saw these photos years ago in a much earlier edition (I believe it was the 1969 Aperture work) and I still marvel at the depth of the images in that printing.
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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful By No One Important on December 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Robert Frank with this small little book changed the course of photography. He changed the way people take photographs. He changed the way we look at photographs. He changed the definition of what was an acceptable or good photograph. The way Monet and Picasso changed how one could paint, Frank changed the way one could photograph.

How did he do this? He basically introduced the "icongraphic photograph" to the world. Take for example, his picture in the Americans of a political rally for Ike. It is of a man standing against a blank wall, playing the tuba. But the tuba's opening obscures his face, all you see is the big blank dark opening of the the tuba where his eyes and mouth are suppossed to be. And then right behind the tuba, almost coming out of it, a flag, an American flag, though shapeless, and formless and it snakes out of the picture. On the man's lapel is a big "For Ike" button. At the time, this was a radical photograph and statement about politics and the role of the individual in political life; remember this was 1957.

There are many many many other photographs like this throughout the Americans: St. Peter taking on City Hall. The American flag covering the faces of the people at a parade. The jukebox everywhere. The signs screaming "No Negroes Allowed" while on the next page is a photograph of an older black women holding in her arms, caring for, a young white baby. Frank clearly asking, screaming, why is it okay for them to care your for babies but not okay for them to use the same toilet as you?

It is a subtle but very powerful book. And once you see it, once you get it, you can never see a photograph the same way again.

He has influenced every photographer who has come after him.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By on December 29, 1998
Format: Hardcover
this is the only book to buy if you are interested in photography. every image is true. if you ever have a chance to view the actual prints, don't miss them. i have learned more about photography from looking at this book than any other source. it is a masterpiece.
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