April 22, 2009

Robert Frank: The Americans

Robert Frank, Belle Isle, Detroit, 1955/6

Robert Frank’s photographs in The Americans were taken during the 1950’s. The Swiss-born photographer took a road trip across America and captured anything that caught his trained eye. As touched upon in Jack Kerouac’s introduction, America is a very unique place. As a country, it has always contained an extremely varied culture due to its cultural, religious and economic freedoms along with the tensions that come from the unique circumstances this boiling pot creates. What Robert Frank has done so remarkably in The Americans is explore virtually all of America, the good, the bad and the ugly in a consistently visually stunning manner. One way he did this was to capture the dichotomy of American culture, especially the undertones of its different races, with those who experience it day in and day out.

Robert Frank, Yale Commencement - New Haven Green, New Haven, Connecticut, 1955/6

Robert Frank, St. Petersburg, Florida, 1955/6

Often, Frank photographs people separated in groups or facing in opposing directions to heighten their implied differences. This occurs in Yale Commencement where a man gazes opposite multitudes of graduates. It makes one wonder what differentiates him so much-his age, experiences, memories perhaps. It is also evident in his photo from St. Petersburg, Florida of five elders who sit together yet look out in different directions.

Robert Frank, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1955/6

Robert Frank, U.S. 285, New Mexico, 1955/6

Frank frequently depicts the loner, such as a singular black woman in Beaufort, South Carolina or my personal favorite–one melancholy car moving down U.S. 285, New Mexico. His method of capturing those in their own element brings honesty to his effort of photographing America.

--Billy Blumberg

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