Frank "sucked a sad poem right out of America on to film."
September 10, 2019 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Robert Frank, the American artist whose photographs captured the lives of everyday people and influenced a generation with his raw and evocative style, has died aged 94 (The Guardian).
Photographer Robert Frank, Who Exposed the Alienation and Heartbreak of America, Dies at 94 (Smithsonian): Frank, who died on Monday at the age of 94, looked at the country through the critical eyes of an outsider. Originally from Switzerland, he travelled across the United States taking photos of factory workers, prostitutes, cross-dressers, cowboys and Americans of all stripes. He rarely spoke to his subjects, but possessed an uncanny ability to capture the alienation, poverty and racism that rippled throughout his adopted homeland. Frank’s 1958 book The Americans, which assembled 83 photos taken during his cross-country tour, had “a profound impact on the art of photography [and] changed the course of American photography,” says Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head of the department of photographs at the National Gallery of Art.

Robert Frank: Influential Swiss-American photographer dies at 94 (BBC): First published in France and then in the US. [The Americans] was widely condemned by critics, as it depicted a country sharply at odds with the America portrayed by Hollywood and the ad men.
Earl A Powell III, art historian and museum director, said the work showed "a people plagued by racism, often ill-served by their politicians, intoxicated with the media and celebrities, and infatuated with speed, movement, and even the road itself".
Frank shot on a small 35mm camera without a motor, so unlike today where you'd find near identical frames sides by side, his contact sheets reveal how he has moved through the crowd, seizing moments of interest.
Ultimately, The Americans is a book that flows from front to back, a visual poem where sequencing was all important.
Frank's loose style broke the mould. He shot around 28,000 images that were edited down to 83 for a book that rewrote the rules of photo-journalism.
Beat poet Jack Kerouac wrote in the preface to the book's US edition, Frank "sucked a sad poem right out of America on to film."

Remembering Robert Frank Through His Pioneering Images of America (ArtNews)
The one Robert Frank photo that might best capture America (PBS)

Robert Frank
posted by not_the_water (27 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
posted by jcrcarter at 3:09 PM on September 10, 2019

Eyes the PBS site. Anyone who writes an article about a photo and then only includes a tiny 1x2 inch image which cannot be clicked on for a larger version should lose their website privileges.
posted by tavella at 3:40 PM on September 10, 2019 [6 favorites]

posted by JoeXIII007 at 3:44 PM on September 10, 2019

posted by a halcyon day at 3:52 PM on September 10, 2019


Just pulled out my copy of The Americans and wishing once again that I could see it with the eyes of someone in 1957 before its images became so diluted and imitated by decades of streets photographers and road trip documentarians who followed him.

Here's what Ian Jeffrey said about the book in his Photography: A Concise History:
Frank's starting point is a mythical America of The Flag, the Fourth of July, political parades, barber shops, ranches, cowboys, coffee shops, interstate highways and the South. Its names carry an aura of high romance - Beaufort, Belle Isle, Butte - an aura which is constantly opposed by the photographs. At Santa Fe he finds a squad of lonely fuel pumps, a barren road and a strip of indifferent scrubland. Traditional America appears in the form of a lounging cowboy by a trashcan in New York City. Belle Isle is a sea of cars, and Los Angeles a neon arrow and a hunched pedestrian. Not surprisingly, The Americans was either shunned or denounced by American critics. In the sixties, however, it was an influential book, and by the seventies Frank's harsh, contradictory vision was a norm in American photography.
Personally I'm attracted to his style or anti-style as much as his editorial content. He broke so many rules about what makes a "good photograph" but was so good at it that he made great ones instead. His pictures often have the subject of the image out of focus or hidden the shadows or blurred due to his slow shutter speed. Even printed in a small book the film grain is often so heavy that the pictures take on an abstract feel.

I love so many of them but this might be my favorite.
posted by octothorpe at 3:54 PM on September 10, 2019 [11 favorites]

posted by photoslob at 4:10 PM on September 10, 2019

posted by mygothlaundry at 4:31 PM on September 10, 2019

posted by fitnr at 4:40 PM on September 10, 2019

@tavella try here
posted by stevil at 4:40 PM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by Lyme Drop at 5:27 PM on September 10, 2019

posted by helmutdog at 6:01 PM on September 10, 2019

posted by Lawn Beaver at 6:27 PM on September 10, 2019

posted by wicked_sassy at 6:34 PM on September 10, 2019

posted by bonobothegreat at 7:48 PM on September 10, 2019

posted by drnick at 8:18 PM on September 10, 2019

The best.

posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 9:11 PM on September 10, 2019

posted by St. Oops at 9:42 PM on September 10, 2019

None of the links mention Pull My Daisy, the short film Robert Frank co-directed in 1959.

It's a classic document of Beat culture, written by Jack Kerouac and featuring Allen Ginsberg, Kerouac (narrating), Gregory Corso, Delphine Seyrig (!), Larry Rivers and others. Kerouac's narration is a largely off-the-cuff adaptation of his play, Beat Generation, but the visuals were carefully planned and rehearsed by Frank and his co-director Alfred Leslie despite the improvisational feel. Here's a good-quality version on YouTube (26 min).
posted by theory at 9:44 PM on September 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

posted by xammerboy at 11:13 PM on September 10, 2019

posted by Mister Bijou at 12:10 AM on September 11, 2019

posted by filtergik at 4:29 AM on September 11, 2019

posted by a complicated history at 6:16 AM on September 11, 2019

It's hard to find a copy, but it's worth seeking out The Americans List, a book of people (including many of the best photographers working now) talking about their favorite photos from Frank's seminal work.
posted by msbrauer at 7:29 AM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I remember seeing that Rolling Stones doc at a Toronto rep cinema the 80s. One of the stipulations on showing it was that he had to be present. He gave an intro, making it clear that he was legally barred from saying much but he told us to pay attention to the downward trajectory of his sound man.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:23 PM on September 11, 2019

“Great films about photographers are hard to come by. Perhaps it’s something about the nature of the medium that makes it hard to translate into moving images. (Could it be that photography depends on a lack of context, and that film provides too much?) Laura Israel’s film is a great film and admirably succeeds in providing context not just for many of Frank’s photographs but for his films, as well. And in its own crazy and capricious way perfectly captures the crazy and capricious nature of Frank’s art. I loved it.” — Errol Morris

“Don't Blink - Robert Frank (2015)” by Laura Israel | Trailer | IMdb | Internet Archive
posted by boost ventilator at 8:35 AM on September 12, 2019

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