Robert Frank: The Americans – Book

I have been pondering how best to write about the books that I read, or in this case just look at as apart from the introduction by Kerouac (in which frankly I think he overdoes the On-The-Road-Kerouacness) there is nothing to read but for the captions.  There is no point just describing them or attempting some sort of review.  I think what I really want is some sort of personal reaction and response.

How do you respond to a book like this?  I was sort of expecting something similar to Walker Evans but structured round a road trip.  It is a road trip but not presented in a chronological, or geographically logical way.  It is really all over the place but that is part of its appeal.  Evans’s approach to picturing America was quite staid and conservative, or at least calm considered.  Frank though demonstrates and captures something of the bewildering diversity of America, and the Americans, their ‘tribal’ loyalties but also what separates them as much as what binds them together into a nation.

His is not a very optimistic view of the world.  The pictures are often grainy, not completely in focus on occasions, quite raw.  I find that immensely appealing.  These pictures seem to me to have more to say about the idea of “images a la sauvette” even than HCB’s own work, partly because Frank does not seem to have been one for ex post facto rationalisation.  He seems much less concerned with ideas of geometry, the golden section, and even classical approaches to composition.  His goal was the striking image, and that is what he gets.

I suppose one thing that particularly appeals to me is a certain sense of risk – not in a personal or physical sense but the risk that the image might fail.  Being somewhat risk averse myself, and still needing to experiment more and push at my limits when taking pictures, there is a vicarious pleasure to be derived from looking at the work of such a master.

Frank, R (2016).  The Americans.  Göttingen: Steidl


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