Posts Tagged ‘skepticism about a rising consumer culture

08
Mar
09

Exhibition: ‘Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans’ at The National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exhibition dates: National Gallery of Art, January 18 – April 26, 2009; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, May 16 – August 23, 2009; Metropolitan Museum of Art, September 22 – December 27, 2009

 

Robert Frank 'The Americans' New York: Grove Press 1959 front cover

Robert Frank 'The Americans' New York: Grove Press 1959 back cover

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
The Americans
New York: Grove Press
1959

 

 

One of the seminal photography books of the twentieth century, Robert Frank’s The Americans changed photography forever, changed how America saw itself and became a cult classic. Like Eugene Atget’s positioning of the camera in an earlier generation Frank’s use of camera position is unique; his grainy and contrasty images add to his outsider vision of a bleak America; his sequencing of the images, like the cadences of the greatest music, masterful. One of the easiest things for an artist to do is to create one memorable image, perhaps even a group of 4 or 5 images that ‘hang’ together – but to create a narrative of 83 images that radically alter the landscape of both photography and country is, undoubtedly, a magnificent achievement.

The photographs in the posting appear by number order that they appear in the book.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Released at the height of the Cold War, The Americans was initially reviled, even decried as anti-American. Yet during the 1960s, many of the issues that Frank had addressed – racism, dissatisfaction with political leaders, skepticism about a rising consumer culture – erupted into the collective consciousness. The book came to be regarded as both prescient and revolutionary and soon was embraced with a cult-like following.

First published in France in 1958 and in the United States in 1959, Robert Frank’s The Americans is widely celebrated as the most important photography book since World War II. Including 83 photographs made largely in 1955 and 1956 while Frank (b. 1924) traveled around the United States, the book looked beneath the surface of American life to reveal a profound sense of alienation, angst, and loneliness. With these prophetic photographs, Frank redefined the icons of America, noting that cars, jukeboxes, gas stations, diners, and even the road itself were telling symbols of contemporary life. Frank’s style – seemingly loose, casual compositions, with often rough, blurred, out-of-focus foregrounds and tilted horizons – was just as controversial and influential as his subject matter. The exhibition celebrates the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication by presenting all 83 photographs from The Americans in the order established by the book, and by providing a detailed examination of the book’s roots in Frank’s earlier work, its construction, and its impact on his later art.

Text from The National Gallery of Art website [Online] Cited 06/03/2009 (no longer available online)

 

 

Robert Frank Americans 1 'Parade - Hoboken, New Jersey' 1955

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 1
Parade – Hoboken, New Jersey
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21.3 x 32.4 cm (8 3/8 x 12 3/4 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'City Fathers - Hoboken, New Jersey'

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 2
City fathers – Hoboken, New Jersey
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image: 41.9 x 57.8 cm (16 1/2 x 22 3/4 in.)
Susan and Peter MacGill
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. Americans 3. 'Political Rally - Chicago' 1956

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 3
Political Rally – Chicago
1956
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 57.8 x 39.4 cm (22 3/4 x 15 1/2 in.)
Susan and Peter MacGill
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Funeral, St. Helena, South Carolina' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 4
Funeral – St. Helena, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 39.7 x 58.1 cm (15 5/8 x 22 7/8 in.)
Susan and Peter MacGill
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

 

“The photos revealed a bleaker, more dislocated view of America than Americans were used to (at least in photography). Frank’s “in-between moments” demonstrated that disequilibrium can seem more revealing, seeming to catch reality off-guard. In doing so the collection also announced to the world that photos with a completely objective reference/referent could be subjective, lyrical, reveal a state-of-mind. Looser framing, more forced or odd juxtapositions, “drive-by” photos and other elements offer a sense of the process that has produced the photos”

Lloyd Spencer on Discussing The Americans in Hardcore Street Photography

I couldn’t have put it better myself!

 

Robert Frank. 'Charleston, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 13
Charleston, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image: 41.3 x 59.1 cm (16 1/4 x 23 1/4 in.)
Susan and Peter MacGill
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Ranch Market, Hollywood' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 14
Ranch Market – Hollywood
1956
Gelatin silver print
Image: 31.4 x 48.3 cm (12 3/8 x 19 in.)
Danielle and David Ganek
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Butte, Montana' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 15
Butte, Montana
1956
elatin silver print
Overall: 20 x 30.2 cm (7 7/8 x 11 7/8 in.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Acquired through the generosity of the Young family in honour of Robert B. Menschel, 2003
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Trolley - New Orleans' 1955

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 18
Trolley – New Orleans
1955
gelatin silver print
Image: 40.6 x 57.8 cm (16 x 22 3/4 in.)
Susan and Peter MacGill
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. Contact sheets for 'The Americans'

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Contact sheets for The Americans
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

“Frank’s contact sheets take us back to the moment he made the photographs for The Americans. They show us what he saw as he traveled around The United States and how he responded to it. These sheets are not carefully crafted objects; in his eagerness to see what he had captured, Frank did not bother to order his film strips numerically or even to orientate them all in the same direction.”

 

Robert Frank. Sequencing of 'The Americans' numbers 32- 36

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Sequencing of
The Americans numbers 32- 36
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

“Almost halfway through the book Frank created a sequence united by the visual repetition of the car and the suggestion of its movement.”

 

Robert Frank. Americans 32 'U.S. 91, Leaving Blackfoot, Idaho' 1956

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 32
U.S. 91, Leaving Blackfoot, Idaho
1956
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28.9 x 42.2 cm (11 3/8 x 16 5/8 in.)
Collection of Barbara and Eugene Schwartz
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924) Americans 33 'St. Petersburg, Florida' 1955

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 33
St. Petersburg, Florida
1955
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 22.2 x 33.7 cm (8 3/4 x 13 1/4 in.)
Collection of Barbara and Eugene Schwartz
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank Americans 34 'Covered Car - Long Beach, California' 1956

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 34
Covered Car – Long Beach, California
1956
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21.4 x 32.7 cm (8 7/16 x 12 7/8 in.)
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Car accident, US 66 between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 35
Car accident, US 66 between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona
1955-56
Gelatin silver print
Image: 31 x 47.5 cm (12 3/16 x 18 11/16 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Promised gift of Susan and Peter MacGill in honour of Anne d’Harnoncourt
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'U.S. 285, New Mexico' 1955

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 36
U.S. 285, New Mexico
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image: 33.7 x 21.9 cm (13 1/4 x 8 5/8 in.)
Mark Kelman, New York
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Bar, Detroit' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 37
Bar – Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 39.4 x 57.8 cm (15 1/2 x 22 3/4 in.)
Sherry and Alan Koppel
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

 

The 50th anniversary of a groundbreaking publication will be celebrated in the nation’s capital with the exhibition Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans, premiering January 18 through April 26, 2009, in the National Gallery of Art’s West Building ground floor galleries. In 1955 and 1956, the Swiss-born American photographer Robert Frank (b. 1924) traveled across the United States to photograph, as he wrote, “the kind of civilisation born here and spreading elsewhere.” The result of his journey was The Americans, a book that looked beneath the surface of American life to reveal a culture on the brink of massive social upheaval and one that changed the course of 20th-century photography.

First published in France in 1958 and in the United States in 1959, The Americans remains the single most important book of photographs published since World War II. The exhibition will examine both Frank’s process in creating the photographs and the book by presenting 150 photographs, including all of the images from The Americans, as well as 17 books, 15 manuscripts, and 28 contact sheets. In honour of the exhibition, Frank has created a film and participated in selecting and assembling three large collages. The exhibition will travel to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from May 17 through August 23, 2009, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art from September 22 through December 27, 2009.

The Americans is as powerful and provocative today as it was 50 years ago,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “We are immensely grateful to Robert Frank and his wife, June Leaf, for their enthusiastic participation and assistance in all aspects of this exhibition and its equally ambitious catalogue. We also wish to thank Robert Frank for his donation of archival material related to The Americans, in addition to gifts of his photographs and other exhibition prints to the National Gallery of Art in 1990, 1994, and 1996, all of which formed the foundation of the project.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Art

 

Robert Frank. 'Elevator - Miami Beach' 1955

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 44
Elevator – Miami Beach
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image: 31.4 x 47.8 cm (12 3/8 x 18 13/16 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with funds contributed by Dorothy Norman, 1969
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Assembly line, Detroit' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 50
Assembly line – Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print
21.4 x 32.1 cm (8 7/16 x 12 5/8 in.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Purchase, 1959
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Convention hall, Chicago' 1956

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 51
Convention hall – Chicago
1956
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 34.1 cm (8 7/8 x 13 7/16 in.)
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Museum Purchase
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Beaufort, South Carolina' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 55
Beaufort, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 31.1 x 47.6 cm (12 1/4 x 18 3/4 in.)
Private collection
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 58
Political rally – Chicago
1956
Gelatin silver print
Image: 59.1 x 36.5 cm (23 1/4 x 14 3/8 in.)
Betsy Karel
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Coffee Shop Railway Station' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 70
Coffee shop, railway station – Indianapolis
1956
Gelatin silver print
Overall (image): 22.9 x 34.6 cm (9 x 13 5/8 in.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Acquired through the generosity of Carol and David Appel, 2003
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Chattanooga, Tennessee' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 71
Chattanooga, Tennessee
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image: 20.8 x 29.5 cm (8 3/16 x 11 5/8 in.)
Private collection
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

 

“It’s hard to stress how different The Americans was. Over the course of those 83 pictures – shot from Detroit to San Francisco to Chattanooga, Tennessee – Frank captured the country in images that were intentionally unglamorous. On a technical level, he brazenly tossed out an adherence to traditional ideas of composition, framing, focus, and exposure.”

Sarah Greenough, Senior Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Art in Washington

 

Robert Frank. 'Belle Isle, Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 73
Belle Isle – Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 29.2 x 42.5 cm (11 1/2 x 16 3/4 in.)
Collection of Barbara and Eugene Schwartz
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'City Hall, Reno, Nevada' 1956

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 81
City Hall – Reno, Nevada
1956
Gelatin silver print
Image: 20.3 x 32.4 cm (8 x 12 3/4 in.)
Private collection
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'US 90 on route to Del Rio, Texas' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 83
U.S. 90, en route to Del Rio, Texas
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image (and board): 47.6 x 31.1 cm (18 3/4 x 12 1/4 in.)
Private collection, courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

 

National Gallery of Art
National Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets
Constitution Avenue NW, Washington

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday 1000 am – 5.00 pm
Sunday 11.00 am – 6.00 pm

National Gallery of Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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