To call Robert Frank a pivotal photographer is both wholly accurate and at the same time a gross understatement. He completely changed what anyone and everyone thought a photograph could, would, or should actually do. There were so many great photographers of the last century but Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank are the two towering giants that stand completely alone. His book The Americans is the most important book of photographs ever published. It baffled everyone at the time. It was hated and dismissed as crappy photography. It took years for people to begin to understand what the work was saying... because, before that, photography was just great photographs, it wasn't trying to say anything.
So, here please find a chilling essay that explains what America, a 200+ year old country with little cultural history and bad public schools looked like in the last century to aristocratic Europeans, who enjoy the oldest and richest shared cultural history on Earth, and what made Robert Frank's book so monumental.
“Robert Frank’s The Americans, which I think is the most important single effort in photography in this century, is also the most enigmatic. For 24 years the book has remained nearly impenetrable. There has seldom been any question of its intensity, its cohesiveness, or its uniqueness. The question has been what it is about.
“To realize the extent to which the content of the 83 photographs in The Americans has been glossed over one can look at what has been said about it over the years. For the most part, criticism as well as enthusiasm has centered on Frank’s style of photography and on its formal aspects. Until recently, no one delved into the content of his pictures.
“And in 1978 Szarkowski noted the difficulty younger photographers would have in understanding “how radical Frank’s book was when it first appeared.”
“But these accolades do little to explain how the book was important — except in terms of its revolutionary style — and they say nothing about what the images in it mean.
“Today the pictures no longer shock us. Today only one quality stands out — their muteness. Twenty-four years later, those images still never describe fully, never seem to make a clear point.
“When I first saw work from the The Americans I could make no sense of it. It wasn’t political. It wasn’t an exposé. It seemed only to deal in street photography enlightened by some perverse sense of humor, at times pervaded with an undirected melancholy.
“Only when I was told that this was the work of a Swiss national did it make sense — and then instantly.”
Robert Frank Dies; Pivotal Documentary Photographer
Falsehood will fly on the wings of the wind, and carry its tales to every corner of the earth; whilst truth lags behind; her steps slow and solemn, she has neither the vigour nor activity to overtake her enemy. - Thomas Francklin