Review originally published in www.PhotographyMatters.com, June 2008.
On 15th May, 1958 Robert Frank’s book The Americans was published by Robert Delpire of Paris, after Frank was unable to find an American publisher due to the tone and content of the 83 photographs. The images, taken by the Swiss immigrant photographer on the road in the US during 1955-56, did not sit well with America’s post-WWII vision of itself as the leading nation in the world.
According to the New York Times, ‘Few books in the history of photography have had as powerful an impact as The Americans.’ So says the red banner wrapped around my beautiful new Steidl edition, which arrived by post a couple of weeks ago. And I have to agree with the NYT. This is, in my opinion, the seminal photography book. Joel Sternfeld called Frank’s book, ‘a body of work that changed the course of the river of Photography in a way that it could never take the old course again.’
In New Zealand, the influence of The Americans can be seen in Gary Baigent’s The Unseen City in the 1960s and later in the photographic works of Peter Black, Lucien Rizos, Gary Blackman, John B. Turner and other sophisticated photographers. It certainly influenced my own entry to photography in the mid-80s, but I hadn’t managed to acquire a copy until now.
When Lucien told me about the 50th Anniversary Steidl edition, (which he ordered on the 15th May 2008, the day it was published, because he’s a passionate Robert Frank nut) I was straight on the internet with my much-abused Visa card. As a keen book hunter, I regard buying off the internet like shooting fish in a barrel – the thrill of the hunt just isn’t there - but I’ve been hunting for a copy of this book for 25 years, so I succumbed.
Robert Frank personally oversaw the production of this exquisite edition, signing off each page for the press. He went back to his own vintage prints of the images, which were then scanned in tri-tone, and it was found that images had been cropped for past editions by various publishers, so Frank revised the cropping and in many cases has included the entire image. He had input into every design aspect of this special publication, and the result is indeed a beautiful piece of book design around that still important content. Frank’s original captions and Jack Kerouac’s introduction survive intact.
So while you’re faffing around on the computer, reading blogs when you should be working, why not go to Steidl’s site http://www.steidlville.com/books/695-The-Americans.html and buy the thing. It’s very good value for money, even with the postage to NZ costing more than the book. And perhaps have a look what Steidl are doing with the rest of Robert Frank’s photography books and films while you’re there.
Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Americans_%28photography%29
by james | 30 June, 2008