After Reading: The Americans

On reading the street photography touchstone way past when I should have.

After Reading: The Americans

Though I photographed professionally for years, and though I spent a great deal of that time photographing in the street, emulating the great street photographers, I had not read Robert Frank’s The Americans in person before this week. It’s the most iconic street photography book - shot 1955-56.

I picked it up on my last walk through the bookstore - found it nestled between the bindings of the much larger format contemporary photography books.

I don’t like writing in the margins of my photography books, so I took notes as I leafed through the pages over coffee this morning:

It’s so quiet - every photo has the people still, and hardly any are interacting with each other or much else in the frame.

An intense focus on where people’s eyelines are condensing, while (in other frames) obscuring faces to isolate a lone person in a group or remove a person from the scene while leaving their body as a form in the scene.

He loves assembling lines of people and objects within the frame. Crescendos and diminuendos.

The ordering of the photos doesn’t tell a narrative of any individual place or people, but juxtaposes the lives of the wealthy with others struggling, the lives in a city with those on open farms, the environment of work with places of relaxation.

Separately, coincidentally, I watched all of Orson Welles’ Sketch Book this afternoon as well - filmed in the same year. It was nice to have an audio representation of the same time to pair with the images.