The Americans at 50
Robert Frank, an 84-year-old American photographer and filmmaker originally from Zurich, is famed for his interpretive and culturally significant images in The Americans - a book that turned 50 this year.
Frank was thrown into an Arkansas prison while photographing The Americans and deemed a possible “communist affiliate” or infiltrator. It was not the only time that he would be labelled as hostile or talentless. The Americans, now celebrated as one of the most influential works of 20th century American photography, was initially criticised as a sloppy and meaningless assault on American culture. First editions are very collectible.
Originally printed in Paris in 1958 after failing to secure a U.S. publisher, The Americans is now revered for its icon-laden and expressively ambiguous photographs which still provoke differing interpretation. Gleaned from 28,000 photographs shot over two years, Frank juxtaposes the optimism of the 1950s with America’s class and race dilemmas. Claiming to capture “what one naturalized American finds to see in the United States that signifies the kind of civilization born here and spreading elsewhere,” Frank’s work is loaded with cultural symbols and his low lighting and unusual cropping diverges from the traditional techniques of the 1950s.
In honor of the book’s 50th anniversary, a commemorative new edition was released this year, and exhibitions of the photos will be held in New York, San Francisco and Washington DC in 2009. The new edition features revised cropping, which often illuminates previously unseen aspects of the photos.
Frank cites photographer Walker Evans as one of his major influences and had a notable friendship with beat poet Allen Ginsberg. The introduction for The Americans, written by Jack Kerouac, considerably drove sales as its popularity grew in during the Beat movement.