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The Americans by Robert Frank
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The Americans (original 1958; edition 1958)

by Robert Frank

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7861422,115 (4.53)17
First published in France in 1958, then the United States in 1959, Robert Frank's The Americans changed the course of twentieth-century photography. In eighty-three photographs, Frank looked beneath the surface of American life to reveal a people plagued by racism, ill-served by their politicians, and rendered numb by a rapidly expanding culture of consumption. Yet he also found novel areas of beauty in simple, overlooked corners of American life. And it was not just his subject matter - cars, jukeboxes, and even the road itself - that redefined the icons of America; it was also his seemingly intuitive, immediate, off-kilter style, as well as his method of brilliantly linking his photographs together thematically, conceptually, formally, and linguistically, that made The Americans so innovative. More of an ode or a poem than a literal document, the book is as powerful and provocative today as it was fifty-five years ago.… (more)
Member:fosku_foto
Title:The Americans
Authors:Robert Frank
Info:New York : Pantheon Books, [1986], c1958.
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:None

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The Americans by Robert Frank (1958)

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» See also 17 mentions

English (12)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (14)
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
430
  revirier | Dec 13, 2021 |
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 |
A classic in terms of establishing simple photographs of ordinary life in the mid 1950s across America. The focus of the book is on the photos with one photo on each 2 page spread. Let the photos speak for themselves. A good reminder that powerful photography does not have to have HDR, perfect light, skies, and no blemishes. The intro by Jack Kerouac is disappointing. It doesn't say much and just wanders through little statements about random photos. ( )
  deldevries | Aug 15, 2020 |
well-deserved classic ( )
  ThomasPluck | Apr 27, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (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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First published in France in 1958, then the United States in 1959, Robert Frank's The Americans changed the course of twentieth-century photography. In eighty-three photographs, Frank looked beneath the surface of American life to reveal a people plagued by racism, ill-served by their politicians, and rendered numb by a rapidly expanding culture of consumption. Yet he also found novel areas of beauty in simple, overlooked corners of American life. And it was not just his subject matter - cars, jukeboxes, and even the road itself - that redefined the icons of America; it was also his seemingly intuitive, immediate, off-kilter style, as well as his method of brilliantly linking his photographs together thematically, conceptually, formally, and linguistically, that made The Americans so innovative. More of an ode or a poem than a literal document, the book is as powerful and provocative today as it was fifty-five years ago.

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