The Americans Hardcover – May 15, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Americans challenged the presiding midcentury formula for photojournalism. Mr. Frank’s photographs ― of lone individuals, teenage couples, groups at funerals and odd spoors of cultural life ― were cinematic, immediate, off-kilter and grainy, like early television transmissions of the period. (Philip Gefter New York Times)
[Frank] pioneered a whole new subject matter that we [now] define as icons: cars, jukeboxes, even the road itself. (Scott Indrisek Artsy)
The photographs from his seminal book The Americans, which took a critical look at our nation’s life in the 1950s, are timeless. His work continues to inspire new generations to follow his path to see what is invisible in America. (L'Oeil de la Photographie)
His work is revolutionary in showing an America that was not seen, but also creating a way of seeing in photography that was new, powerful and charged. (Ken Light San Francisco Chronicle)
...Robert Frank changed history with the 83 images that appeared in his stark breakthrough “The Americans. (Sam Whiting SFGate)
That is the miracle of great socially committed art: It addresses our sources of deepest unease, helps us to confront what we cannot organize or explain by making all of it unforgettable. (Nicholas Dawidoff The New York Times Magazine)
The exhibition is as comprehensive as it is ephemeral featuring a wealth of photographs, all of Frank’s books since 1947, and his films that he began focusing on in the early 1960s. (Lisa Contag Artinfo)
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So now, I ask myself, does the brilliant, incomparable photography of Robert Frank reflect this ? My answer is that there are some photos ( drugstore Detroit, assembly line, drive-in movie, covered car, casino, Met Life building, etc, ) that do reflect that America. And indeed others portray a typically American character: Rodeo, Fourth of July, Candy Store, and a few others. The photos of black people are poignant and true to that era. Yet I find that Frank’s incredible photographs dwell too much on a sombre side, which certainly existed but was not the overriding spirit of the era, or of the country’s driving force: that everyone should have an equal chance. This is where I think Frank comes up short; there are missing photos here. ( Maybe it’s because he is Swiss, from a country that did not suffer the ravages of two world wars, and where everything was small and in Teutonic order at the time he headed for America ) . To make my point: Imagine if a photographer was charged with the task of capturing 15th century Florence, and took photos of the dead and wounded in the many battles of the time, or of the smelly and dark back alleys of the city inhabited by the poor, or the low-life thugs who wandered the streets ! He would have missed Da Vinci, the Cupola of Brunelleschi, the tower of Giotto, the Renaissance Itself.
The mastery of the art is patent in every one of these photographs and justify appreciating and owning this book just for that reason. Yet I am reluctant to feel it is a true portrayal of the America of the time. For this reason I give it three stars.
Format: 3 stars
Caution: This is not a typically large-sized book of photographs. Check the product desription. The book's dimensions are 7.4 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches. The photos, at their LARGEST are about 4.5 x 7.75 inches vertical, and 5.25 x 7.75 inches horizontal. (See photo with iPhone for comparison.)
This is not a criticism, but just a warning. This 2008 edition is the only one widely available, and I have no idea if the original book from the 1950s was larger.
Top international reviews
Though in reality that must have been a dream too, for Robert Frank, because if you look at other photographers of the day. They documented certain key events that marked changes in American society Central High Hallway (O’Halloran, Thomas 1957) and Van Buren Students (Bledsoe, John 1958). So, my question is this; during the time before publication was Robert Frank coerced into ‘an acceptable version’ of his monograph as to superficially hide the ‘truth’ of The Americans? Or, was it, in fact, his artistic interpretation of America. If we scrutinise the landscape of America, two decades earlier, we will discover that it was well documented during The Great Depression, certainly an era that wasn’t overlooked by protagonists Walker Evans (Resettlement Administration 1935-1937), and Dorothea Lange (Farm Security Administration 1936) amongst those, whose work would represent the hardships endured by agricultural workers, pea pickers, and cotton hoers. Arguably by his admission (Art in America, Katz, Lewis 1971), Evans’ work was more objective rather than subjective, citing his photographs did not depict the aesthetic nature of Alfred Stieglitz, whose work was popular at the time. While on the focus of subjectivity, it is here then, we can relate to the work of Robert Frank, as it is the poetic phenomena of The Americans, those critics found difficult to accept; everyone knew those sort of things existed. It is how they are depicted, that makes the photographs much more idiosyncratic, somewhat even emotional, a certain strangeness. Moreover, Robert Frank was an emotional artist, his peers even confirmed his pessimistic wit. So too, do the photographs in the book show a kind of self-awareness, a reflection of how Frank perceived the human condition. As a collector of photographic monographs, this is a book that I wished I had purchased earlier, rather than later in my life. It is an incredible book, but not shocking in comparison to other photographers subjectivity, think Minamata W. Eugene Smith, a master of the photographic essay in my opinion.
If you like it could i suggest that you also get 'Looking in' published by Steidl, a huge 500 page book that gives you the back ground to 'The Americans' and Robert Frank's life. Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans, again an absolutely beautifully produced book.
The Americans was not well received largely because of the style of photography and I suspect because American society did not want to see themselves as his pictures showed them (in parts) to be.
Out of publication for some time this book is a real beauty if you like that sort of photography, if you like the perfect quality of an Ansel Adams photograph you will find that this is at the other end of the scale.
I think that any one who likes books on photography or who was in or liked the beat generation times of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burrough's will be far the poorer for not having it on their book shelf.
This Steidl edition has great repro as you would expect from them. On nice matt art paper too. However to my mind its a claustrophobic stubby little edition with not enough space to let the images breathe. Too many pictures too close to the spine too large on the page. I felt uncomfortable with it because of this. Another couple centimetres bigger and some fresh air would blow in to the visual experience. If i was a Steidl editor I would have rejected it.
However if you have never seen this book before, buy it despite my critique its very moving.
(18.04.14) Since having written the above, the price for this book has become almost absurdly inflated, I paid 17.60 new, including postage. What a pity.
There is much written about the pictures and Robert Frank, so it is not necessary to repeat it by me.
As a reference to this style in photography, to editing and sequencing of pictures and to look at the story itself, it is great that Steidl had done a new book from it.
I have heard that this edition is shortly before being sold out, better get your copy now, it is is worth it anyway.
Well reproduced and essential viewing for Robert Frank fans young and old.