donderdag 12 januari 2012

a Set of images that would later become The Americans U.S. Camera 1958 Robert Frank by Walker Evans Photography

U.S. CAMERA 1958 (1957)

Maloney, Tom

One of the most sought after years of US Camera because of ROBERT FRANK's 24 page portfolio of The Americans, accompanied by a short essay by Walker Evans. Other portfolios are by Brassai, Andreas Feninger, Michael Wolgensinger, Harold Feinstein, and more; Fashion by Avedon, Irving Penn, Bert Stern, Munkacsi, etc. and many fine pictures by over 50 photographers incl. Bill Brandt, Dorthea Lange, Winquist, and so on. Special Reports on Hungary's bloody Fight for Freedom as well as Rockets and Missiles. Most photographs are in black & white, one section of Color. 302 pages, the last pages contain advertising.


Robert Frank, in his house in Nova Scotia, 1969-1971, photograph by Walker Evans

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Walker Evans Archive, 1994 (1994.252.119.1)
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Assuredly the gods who sent Robert Frank, so heavily armed, across the United States did so with a certain smile.

Photographers are often surprised at some of the images they find on their films. But is it an accident that Frank snapped just as those politicians in high silk hats were exuding the utmost fatuity that even a small office-seeker can exhibit. Such strikes are not purely fortuitous. They happen consistently for expert practitioners. Still, there remains something mysterious about their occurrence, for which an analytical onlooker can merely manufacture some such nonsensical phrase as "the artist’s crucial choice of action."

But these examples are not the essence of Frank’s vision, which is more positive, large, and basically generous. The simple picture of a highway is an instance of Frank’s style, which is one of the few clear cut signatures possessed by any of the younger photographers. In this picture, instantly you find the continent. The whole page is haunted with American scale and space, which the mind fills quite automatically—though possibly with memories of negation of violence or of exhaustion with thoughts of bad cooking, extremes of heat and cold, law enforcement, and the chance to work hard in a filling station.

That Frank has responded to America with many tears, some hope, and his own brand of fascination, you can see in looking over the rest of this pictures of people, of roadside landscapes and urban cauldrons and of semi-divine, semi-satanic children. He shows high irony towards a nation that generally speaking has it not; adult detachment towards the more-or-less juvenile section of the population that came into his view. This bracing, almost stinging manner is seldom seen in a sustained collection of photographs. It is a far cry form all the woolly, successful "photo-sentiments" about human familyhood; from the mindless pictorial salestalk around fashionable, guilty and there fore bogus heartfeeling.

Irony and detachment: these are part of the equipment of the critic. Robert Frank, though far, far removed from the arid pretensions of the average sociologist, can say much of the social critic who has not waylaid his imagination among his footnotes and references. Now the United States, be it said, will welcome criticism, and use it. At its worst moments, the U.S.A. today may seem to think it is literally illuminated by the wide smile of one man, and saved for something-or-other by energy and money alone. But worse moments are the province and the mainstay of the daily newspaper.

For the thousandth time, it must be said that the pictures speak for themselves, wordlessly, visually—or they fail. But if those pictures chose to speak, they might well use the words George Santayana once wrote in a small preface about the United States:

"…the critic and artist too have their rights… Moreover, I suspect that my feelings are secretly shared by many people in America, natives and foreigners, who many not have the courage or the occasion to express them frankly… In the classical and romantic tradition of Europe, love, of which there was very little, was supposed to be kindled by beauty, of which there was a great deal; perhaps moral chemistry may be able to reverse this operation, and in the future and in American it may breed beauty out of love."
WALKER EVAN'S (1907 -1975) essay on Robert Frank was first published in U.S. Camera 1958, an introduction to a set of images that would later become The Americans.

© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Robert Frank: A Statement
U. S. Camera Annual, p. 115, 1958

I am grateful to the Guggenheim Foundation for their confidence and the provisions they made for me to work freely in my medium over a protracted period. When I applied for the Guggenheim Fellowship, I wrote: "To produce an authentic contemporary document, the visual impact should be such as will nullify explanation"

With these photographs, I have attempted to show a cross-section of the American population. My effort was to express it simply and without confusion. The view is personal and, therefore, various facets of American life and society have been ignored. The photographs were taken during 1955 and 1956; for the most part in large cities such as Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and in many other places during my Journey across the country. My book, containing these photographs, will be published in Paris by Robert Delpire, 1958.

I have been frequently accused of deliberately twisting subject matter to my point of view. Above all, I know that life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference. Opinion often consists of a kind of criticism. But criticism can come out of love. It is important to see what is invisible to others—perhaps the look of hope or the look of sadness. Also, it is always the instantaneous reaction to oneself that produces a photograph.

My photographs are not planned or composed in advance and I do not anticipate that the on-looker will share my viewpoint. However, I feel that if my photograph leaves an image on his mind—something has been accomplished.

It is a different state of affairs for me to be working on assignment for a magazine. It suggests to me the feeling of a hack writer or a commercial illustrator. Since I sense that my ideas, my mind and my eye are not creating the picture but that the editors' minds and eyes will finally determine which of my pictures will be reproduced to suit the magazines' purposes.

I have a genuine distrust and "mefiance" toward all group activities. Mass production of uninspired photojournalism and photography without thought becomes anonymous merchandise. The air becomes infected with the "smell" of photography. If the photographer wants to be an artist, his thoughts cannot be developed overnight at the corner drugstore.

I am not a pessimist, but looking at a contemporary picture magazine makes it difficult for me to speak about the advancement of photography, since photography today is accepted without question, and is also presumed to be understood by all—even children. I feel that only the integrity of the individual photographer can raise its level.

The work of two contemporary photographers, Bill Brandt of England and the American, Walker Evans, have influenced me. When I first looked at Walker Evans' photographs, I thought of something Malraux wrote: "To transform destiny into awareness." One is embarrassed to want so much for oneself. But, how else are you going to justify your failure and your effort?

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