Part 2: Exercise Robert Frank

Research the body of work The Americans by Robert Frank.

Part 1.

Find five images in The Americans where symbols are used. Explain what they are and how they function in the images.

Robert Frank, b1924 Zurich , Switzerland.

Moving to the USA in 1947 Frank , as an outsider , “was uncomfortable with the American lifestyle and this would be reflected in his work” ( Dickie , p.g 108 2009) . Frank saw loneliness , racism , alienation  ‘ The American Dream’ a mere myth.

Obtaining a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation in 1955 he travelled across the States taking over 28,00 photographs of the communities he visited .He recorded “the mythical America of The Flag , the Fourth of July , political parades , barber shops , ranches , coffee shops , interstate highways and the South” (Jeffrey , 1981, pg. 206). However the resulting images were “described variously as ‘sinister’ , ‘perverse’ anti ‘anti-American’ ” (Dickie , p.g 108 2009) . Unable to find an American publisher the book , consisting of 83 photographs , was initially published in 1958 as Les Americains in Paris then as The Americans in the US the following year.

Regardless of an introduction by Jack Kerouac it was not initially “well received because of  Frank’s unconventional technique” ( Dickie , 2009 , pg. 108 ). His images , which were sometimes cropped , depicted “ a soul-damaged population , fluctuating between violence , ignorance , and despair ”(Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 344) . Furthermore the high contrast  prints were frequently “ gritty , tilted , and blurred ”  (Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 344). Throughout the series traditional symbols of American culture, cowboys, flags , diners , automobiles , jukeboxes ,  are re-defined depicting Frank’s “ bleak alienated vision” (Badger , 2007 , pg. 121) .

However the sequenced images were innovative and  “despite initially poor sales , Kerouac’s involvement helped the book reach a wide audience and it went on to inspire later generations of photographers” ( Dickie , 2009 , pg. 108) . The book consists of four sections , “each part starting with a photograph featuring a flag” (Short, 2011, pg. 126) .


 

1.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 20.15.03

Two women watch a parade as it passes by but both are partial hidden from view. The Stars and Stripes of the American flag dissects the frame diagonally along the top hiding the face of one of the on-lookers. The other woman is in shadows , her face barely visible. I should imagine they are in apartments that overlook the street , perhaps high up. The American national flag is one of its most immediately recognised symbols of patriotism , but the women are cut off from society physically and metaphorically  by the framing of the image. The American flag effectively excludes the woman hidden behind it who remains faceless , isolated,  and unknown .


 

2.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 20.14.51

The image shows a public trolley bus occupied by American citizens taken at a time of racial segregation and hierarchy. The African-Americans , made to sit at the back of the bus , were denied the freedom enjoyed by the white population. The front passenger , a woman ,  and the young boy behind her look rather supercilious , whilst the gentleman at the back has a wistful expression, each alone with their own thoughts as they stare towards the observer. Equality was not a right for all US inhabitants and Frank’s image highlights the inherent racism of the time.


 

3.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 14.44.44

A man shelters under what appears to be the American flag , an old car is dumped in the overgrown and neglected backyard.The image is paradoxically chaotic and static at the same time , this man is going nowhere: he is trapped in a wilderness with no means of escape. The broken-down car and drooping flag signify the hopelessness Frank witnessed on his travels across the States.


 

4.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 09.41.11

A huge outdoor screen allows movie-goers the freedom to watch movies alone , without the effort of  leaving their vehicle . The car becomes a symbol of isolation , each inhabitant remote and insular.


 

5.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 09.40.08

Seated in an American diner the male customers have rather brusque expressions as they await their food and drink. Rather than a communal occasion with family and friends the diner is seen as a place of solitariness and division.


Part 2.
Read the introduction to the Americans by Jack Kerouac.
Find symbolic references that you can identify in Robert Frank’s
photographs-not necessarily the five images chosen for the first part of this
exercise.

Anybody doesnt like these pitchers dont like potry, see? Anybody dont like potry
go home see Television shots of big hatted cowboys being tolerated by horses”
Jack Kerouac 1959.

Coffins , cemeteries , jukeboxes , cars , highways ,
cowboys , elevators , are all referenced by Kerouac in the introduction. The
prose both describes and alludes to the metaphorical
meaning of Frank’s work.

1.
Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 13.13.07
“The loneliest picture ever made , the urinals women never see , the shoeshine going on in sad eternity” Jack Kerouac

2.
Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 20.20.19
The sweet little white baby in the black nurse’s arms both of them bemused in Heaven , a picture that should have been blown up and hung in the street of Little Rock showing love under the sky and in the womb of the universe the Mother” Jack Kerouac.

3.
Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 09.42.11
After seeing these pictures you end up finally not knowing if a jukebox is sadder than a coffin” Jack Kerouac.

4.
Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 09.48.54
Little ole elevator girl looking up sighing in an elevator full of demons” Jack Kerouac.

References / Bibliography
Badger , Gerry , ( 2007) . The Genius of Photography  How photography has changed our lives , Quadrille , London , UK.
Dickie Chris , (2009) . Photography The 50 most influential photographers in the world, A & C Black , London , UK
Jeffrey Ian , (1981) . Photography A Concise History , Thames & Hudson , London , UK
Warner Marien Mary . (2010 ) Photography:A Cultual History Third edition, Laurence King , London, UK
Short , M. (2011) Creative Photography:Context and Narrative. Lausanne : Ava Publishing.
Accessed 12/2/2015
Accessed 12/2/2015
Accessed 12/2/2015
Accessed 13/2/2015
Accessed 13/2/2015
Accessed 12/2/2015

 

 
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