Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The Americans: book two?

Looking through the 131 fascinating photos in the book is like coming across The Americans volume two, though this is not strictly accurate because there are twenty-two from the original title included here. Peter Galassi's front of book illustrated essay provides some thoughtful background detail about Frank's photo style in the context of mid-fifties America. On page thirty-three he says The Americans is not an album of Frank's best work, though it does have some of his great photos but the book, with its one photo per spread sequencing, allows the images of everyday America to create an emotional punch when viewed as a whole.
No other photo book of the period could claim that, Klein's classic New York title and work from the New York School photographers produced powerful images but only from a regional perspective. Frank's book is successful I think because it covered a huge area of post-war America, a time of plenty for many millions and why the critics of the day didn't like the coverage because it didn't reflect that feel-good factor.

Included in Galassi's essay is a detailed map (over a spread) with the places Frank visited between 1949 to 1961 with page numbers for the photos in the book. New York, Los Angeles and Detroit provide the most. The photos follow no particular geographic or date sequence: New York 1951 on one page is facing Hollywood 1958. Galassi says the trips created 767 rolls of film or 27,000 frames. (The Steidl book
Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans, Expanded Edition reproduces over two thousand of these frames in contact sheet form.)

A thing I noticed about many of the photos is that people are looking elsewhere, not at Frank taking their photos but out of the frame to the left or right or at something in the frame, a shop window for instance. Many photos have no people in them at all but showing almost still-life detail: a rack of postcards at Hoover Dam; a New York photographer's window full of baby snaps; the letter H of the Hollywood sign; a shirt on a hanger in a Detroit factory. Nearly all the eighty-three in the original book feature people.

A point worth noting from Galassi's essay is that he suggests having a copy of The Americans at hand because he refers to so many photos in it and this book and usefully he provides a page number guide to the original title that just had captions for the photos. This Steidl edition is beautifully produced with 175 screen tritones on a slightly off-white matt paper.

Robert Frank in America with its excellent essay and photos is the perfect comlement to the original classic photo book.

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