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The Americans (1958)

by Robert Frank

Other authors: Jack Kerouac (Introduction)

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9461822,376 (4.51)18
From the Publisher: In 1958, the first edition of Robert Frank's The Americans was published in Paris. Les Americains contained Frank's 83 photographs in the same sequence as all subsequent editions, with the image on the right hand page, but juxtaposed with historical texts about American society and politics, gathered by Alain Bosquet. The following year, in the first American edition, the French texts were removed and an introduction by Jack Kerouac was added. Over the subsequent 50 years, The Americans has been republished in many editions, in numerous languages, with a variety of cover designs and even in a range of sizes. It is the most famous photography book ever published, and it changed the face of the medium forever. Robert Frank discussed with his publisher, Gerhard Steidl, the idea of producing a new edition using modern scanning and the finest tritone printing. The starting point was to bring original prints from New York to Gottingen, Germany, where Steidl is based. In July 2007, Frank visited Gottingen. A new format for the book was worked out and new typography selected. A new cover was designed and Frank chose the book cloth, foil for embossing and the endpaper. Most significantly, as he has done for every edition of The Americans, Frank changed the cropping of many of the photographs, usually including more information. Two images were changed completely from the original 1958 and 1959 editions.… (more)
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» See also 18 mentions

English (14)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (17)
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
"THE" fundamental book for the evolution of American photography in the second part of the XX century. ( )
  d.v. | May 16, 2023 |
Interesting book of American photographs from the '50s. Reflects the society of the time: youth problems, racism, etc. Considered a classic. The book came out in 1959, but the photography trip was from 1955. ( )
  kslade | Dec 8, 2022 |
When I discovered “The Americans,” by Robert Frank as a student, it changed not only my career but how I approached all my subjects when I was working as a photographer. Probably one of the best collection of images ever assembled in one project. ( )
1 vote John_Hughel | Jun 21, 2022 |
These images are surely the progenitors of modern photographic social commentary, and they are poignant and affecting, but I wasn’t wowed. I probably should try to appreciate them for their historical context, but that’s a drab, dull way to interact with art.
Also, I did not appreciate Kerouac’s repetitive, pretentious foreward. Yes, yes - you make up words that sound like feelings. Aren’t you amazing?! ( )
  jeneralinterest | Dec 11, 2021 |
"A sad poem right out of America onto film" - Jack Kerouac
Review of the Stiedl hardcover edition (2008) of the Grove Press hardcover original (1959)
It could seem as if Frank threw his Leica into the world and let it catch what it could, which happened, without fail, to be something exciting - fascination, pain, hilarity, disgust, longing ... No limit to the variety of feelings, with the one uniform rule that they be bleedingly raw. - excerpt from The Shock of Robert Frank's "The Americans" by Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, Sept. 10, 2019.
... flawed by meaningless blur, grain, muddy exposure, drunken horizons and general sloppiness. - excerpt from an early review in Popular Photography 1960.

See photograph at https://d3i6fh83elv35t.cloudfront.net/static/2019/09/robertfrank1-1200x789.jpg
Photograph of Robert Frank and his 35mm Leica camera (1954) by Fred Stein. Image sourced from PBS.org

The Americans is the result of a 9 month trip through 30 U.S. States during 1955-56. Swiss-American photographer Robert Frank (1924-2019) shot what is variously estimated as between 20,000 to 28,000 Black & White photographs during this 10,000 mile journey . After developing the 767 rolls of film, he made 1,000 work prints out of which he selected only 83 images for the final book.

As opposed to what most would have expected as the exuberance of the post-World War II boom years, Frank's images more often show resigned faces proceeding through the events of life from birth to death. There are shots of babes in arms, people on the street, at lunch counters, at bars with jukeboxes (jukeboxes seemed to be a Frank favourite), at parties, at funerals. The images are often caught on the fly, sometimes with unsuspecting subjects turning to stare resentfully at the camera. No opinions are stated in the book by Frank. There are only generic identifiers of subject and location such as "Canal Street - New Orleans 1955", "Trolley - New Orleans 1955", etc.

The final product was considered too controversial at first to be published in the U.S. and first saw print as Les Américains (1958) Delpire, France. It was finally published in the U.S. in late 1959 by Grove Press and the Stiedl publication is its 50th Anniversary edition.

In the book, each photograph becomes an essay in which the viewer must write the rest of the text. Why was this one of 83 selected out of 28,000 possibilities? What is it saying in itself? What is it saying about the people and objects in it? What is it saying about America, Americans and the world at large? You can ponder those thoughts for a very long time.

Other Reviews
The Americans by Jim Casper at Lens Culture, September 2019. This includes a selection of the photographs. ( )
  alanteder | Jun 26, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
[Frank] wanted to portray "the kind of civilization born here and spreading elsewhere." And he succeeded not only in recording how the country looked but in capturing its essence, so that The Americans still seems like an accurate portrait of how it feels to live here.
added by Shortride | editHarper's Magazine, Francine Prose (pay site) (Jan 1, 2010)
 

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert Frankprimary authorall editionscalculated
Kerouac, JackIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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From the Publisher: In 1958, the first edition of Robert Frank's The Americans was published in Paris. Les Americains contained Frank's 83 photographs in the same sequence as all subsequent editions, with the image on the right hand page, but juxtaposed with historical texts about American society and politics, gathered by Alain Bosquet. The following year, in the first American edition, the French texts were removed and an introduction by Jack Kerouac was added. Over the subsequent 50 years, The Americans has been republished in many editions, in numerous languages, with a variety of cover designs and even in a range of sizes. It is the most famous photography book ever published, and it changed the face of the medium forever. Robert Frank discussed with his publisher, Gerhard Steidl, the idea of producing a new edition using modern scanning and the finest tritone printing. The starting point was to bring original prints from New York to Gottingen, Germany, where Steidl is based. In July 2007, Frank visited Gottingen. A new format for the book was worked out and new typography selected. A new cover was designed and Frank chose the book cloth, foil for embossing and the endpaper. Most significantly, as he has done for every edition of The Americans, Frank changed the cropping of many of the photographs, usually including more information. Two images were changed completely from the original 1958 and 1959 editions.

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