"Wwhy should we remember anything? There is too much to remember now, too much to take in."
October 27, 2004 6:44 AM   Subscribe

In search of lost time It was Jack Kerouac who first defined Robert Frank's genius, who found in it some echo of his own vision of a vast, broken-down, but still epic, America, peopled with restless and lonely dreamers. 'Robert Frank, Swiss, unobtrusive, nice,' wrote Kerouac in his now famous introduction to Frank's collection The Americans , 'with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a sad poem right out of America on to film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world'.
Frank's exhibition, Storylines, opens this week at the Tate Modern in London.
posted by matteo (6 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Frank, who just turned 80, has had an off-the-charts-sad life. In the Guardian interview I linked, there are jewels like

Back in New York, Frank's work was shown as part of a group show at Moma, and he met and befriended the great Walker Evans. 'He used me as his chauffeur. He had this big car and we'd drive to New England or some place to look at the buildings. Walker would get out and tell me to drive two blocks away and wait for him. He didn't want me to see how he worked, to share his secrets. But I learnt a lot from him anyway.' What was Evans like as a person? 'He had very good breeding. He'd always say: "Why do you hang out with those people, Robert? They really have no class."'

posted by matteo at 6:49 AM on October 27, 2004 [1 favorite]

Kerouac's introduction was the single aspect of The Americans that I despised. His tumbling and gregarious procession of rejoining thoughts and feelings and details encroached upon the austerity of Frank's photos in The Americans from all sides. Franks could have written a less distracting one himself.

Many of the photos in The Americans, looked at with a contemporary eye, would seem rather trivial and pedantic today--our own snapshot ethos combined with the grungy "art school chic" has turned many of Frank's settings into cliches. He himself says in the Guardian interview, "There are too many pictures now. It's overwhelming. A flood of images that passes by, and says, 'why should we remember anything?' There is too much to remember now, too much to take in." Maybe we do have more images than we know what to do with today, but there is no doubt in my mind that many of Frank's photos will permanently remain as alchemical miracles, having transmuted the quotidian into the profound.

He himself laments in the same Guardian article that "'The kind of photography I did is gone." I have to disagree. While none of the vintage rangefinder users, intrepid shoot-everywhere camera phone shooters, or prolific photobloggers quite cover the same territory individually as Frank had, these changes in the medium (including the recent, ongoing rangefinder renaissance) are continuing to empower people to shoot the way Frank did. Wherever anyone is raising a camera in some bleak, populated corner of America, Robert Frank's footsteps are being followed again.
posted by DaShiv at 8:50 AM on October 27, 2004 [1 favorite]

Thanks Matteo. Nice post. Frank's work reminds me a bit of John Cohen.
posted by shoepal at 9:38 AM on October 27, 2004

Wonderful post, matteo. Thanks. I wish I could see this show at the Tate.

Thomas Gladysz: How does the sacramental relate to another idea you talk about, the quality of "ordinary mind."

Allen Ginsberg: This life is unique and every aspect is unique and never will be repeated. There's a kind of charm and magic to that, we might call it ordinary magic, as Tibetan Buddhists do. There's a realization of death and poignancy and transitoriness - and the idea that the highest consciousness is ordinary consciousness.

TG: Do you feel ordinary mind is what Robert Frank achieved in
The Americans?

AG: I think so. What he was noticing out of the corner of his eye were things that people see every day but didn't want to notice, or didn't notice, or didn't think were glamorous. They become totemic moments: a politician on a stand pressing his lips to kiss a baby; a black man all dressed up holding his chin at a funeral by the Mississippi. An unnoticed corner of the world suddenly becomes noticed, and when you notice something clearly and see it vividly, it then becomes sacred.

posted by digaman at 11:30 AM on October 27, 2004

This is my fave Frank photo.
posted by mr.marx at 12:11 PM on October 27, 2004

Thanks matteo, and thanks for posting stuff like this at a time when the front page is choked with American election posts.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:33 PM on October 27, 2004

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