Skip to content

a much lonelier country

December 16, 2008

(NYTimes) Until Mr. Frank came along, the hallmarks of good documentary photography were sharp, well-lighted, classically composed pictures, whether serious war coverage, social commentary or homespun Americana. Life magazine photographers like Margaret Bourke-White, Alfred Eisenstaedt and W. Eugene Smith had been setting a standard for the picture essay, though Magnum, the photography collective founded in 1947 by, among others, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa, was challenging that standard with a more candid approach to topical or socially conscious material.

When Grove Press first published “The Americans” in 1959, a chorus of critical disdain rose from the few who bothered to write about photography at the time. Popular Photography magazine derided Mr. Frank’s black-and-white pictures of isolated individuals, teenage couples and groups at funerals for their “meaningless blur, grain, muddy exposures, drunken horizons and general sloppiness.”

Critics considered the book an indictment of American society, and his pictures did strip away the veneer of breezy optimism reflected in magazines, movies and television programs of the period. Mr. Frank, who was 23 when he moved to the United States in 1947, said he found America, during his travels cross-country, to be a much harsher place than Europe. “Here it seemed that everyone was sort of alone more,” he said, in contrast with the more social Europe he remembered, where everyone was friendlier. “I didn’t think it was a sad experience, but it was different than Europe.” (Read article)

Listen to an interview with Robert Frank.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: