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Die Amerikaner (1958)

von Robert Frank

Weitere Autoren: Jack Kerouac (Einführung)

MitgliederRezensionenBeliebtheitDurchschnittliche BewertungDiskussionen
7711222,101 (4.54)17
First published in France in 1958, then the United States in 1959, Robert Frank's The Americans changed the course of twentieth-century photography. In eighty-three photographs, Frank looked beneath the surface of American life to reveal a people plagued by racism, ill-served by their politicians, and rendered numb by a rapidly expanding culture of consumption. Yet he also found novel areas of beauty in simple, overlooked corners of American life. And it was not just his subject matter - cars, jukeboxes, and even the road itself - that redefined the icons of America; it was also his seemingly intuitive, immediate, off-kilter style, as well as his method of brilliantly linking his photographs together thematically, conceptually, formally, and linguistically, that made The Americans so innovative. More of an ode or a poem than a literal document, the book is as powerful and provocative today as it was fifty-five years ago.… (mehr)
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"A sad poem right out of America onto film" - Jack Kerouac
Review of the Stiedl hardcover edition (2008) of the Grove Press hardcover original (1959)
It could seem as if Frank threw his Leica into the world and let it catch what it could, which happened, without fail, to be something exciting - fascination, pain, hilarity, disgust, longing ... No limit to the variety of feelings, with the one uniform rule that they be bleedingly raw. - excerpt from The Shock of Robert Frank's "The Americans" by Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, Sept. 10, 2019. ... flawed by meaningless blur, grain, muddy exposure, drunken horizons and general sloppiness. - excerpt from an early review in Popular Photography 1960.
See photograph at https://d3i6fh83elv35t.cloudfront.net/static/2019/09/robertfrank1-1200x789.jpg
Photograph of Robert Frank and his 35mm Leica camera (1954) by Fred Stein. Image sourced from PBS.org

The Americans is the result of a 9 month trip through 30 U.S. States during 1955-56. Swiss-American photographer Robert Frank (1924-2019) shot what is variously estimated as between 20,000 to 28,000 Black & White photographs during this 10,000 mile journey . After developing the 767 rolls of film, he made 1,000 work prints out of which he selected only 83 images for the final book.

As opposed to what most would have expected as the exuberance of the post-World War II boom years, Frank's images more often show resigned faces proceeding through the events of life from birth to death. There are shots of babes in arms, people on the street, at lunch counters, at bars with jukeboxes (jukeboxes seemed to be a Frank favourite), at parties, at funerals. The images are often caught on the fly, sometimes with unsuspecting subjects turning to stare resentfully at the camera. No opinions are stated in the book by Frank. There are only generic identifiers of subject and location such as "Canal Street - New Orleans 1955", "Trolley - New Orleans 1955", etc.

The final product was considered too controversial at first to be published in the U.S. and first saw print as Les Américains (1958) Delpire, France. It was finally published in the U.S. in late 1959 by Grove Press and the Stiedl publication is its 50th Anniversary edition.

In the book, each photograph becomes an essay in which the viewer must write the rest of the text. Why was this one of 83 selected out of 28,000 possibilities? What is it saying in itself? What is it saying about the people and objects in it? What is it saying about America, Americans and the world at large? You can ponder those thoughts for a very long time.

Other Reviews
The Americans by Jim Casper at Lens Culture, September 2019. This includes a selection of the photographs. ( )
  alanteder | Jun 26, 2021 |
A classic in terms of establishing simple photographs of ordinary life in the mid 1950s across America. The focus of the book is on the photos with one photo on each 2 page spread. Let the photos speak for themselves. A good reminder that powerful photography does not have to have HDR, perfect light, skies, and no blemishes. The intro by Jack Kerouac is disappointing. It doesn't say much and just wanders through little statements about random photos. ( )
  deldevries | Aug 15, 2020 |
well-deserved classic ( )
  ThomasPluck | Apr 27, 2020 |
"The Americans" is a much-acclaimed book of photographs lauded by practically all. I had wanted to see it for a long time, but I found it to be a disappointment.

"The Americans" ostensibly portrays a view of America in the late 1940's and early 1950s and it is easy to understand its appeal to those who believe the "greatness" of the United States is overrated. It focuses on working class individuals, many elderly. Those wealthy individuals it portrays are depicted in social situations with ostentatious displays of wealth (e.g., an elderly woman wearing a fur coat in Miami). Nowhere is there a sign of the hope or optimism that characterized large swaths of the American population during those times.

I recognize the difficulty of capturing the essence of America in a scant 83 photos but I was struck by how little of the rich diversity that characterizes America the book captures. For example, "The Americans" largely ignores or distorts the rites of passage that are so important in all societies. Babies, a source of joy to most Americans, are represented in a picture of a baby lying alone on the floor by a jukebox. Teens are depicted in static poses that deny their youthful exuberance. Weddings are absent, yet symbolic decapitations (by flags, stairs, and a tuba) appear repeatedly.

"The Americans" is not without some strong images. Frank's photo of passengers on a bus in New Orleans is widely acclaimed for its portrayal of social stratification in America; partially obscured white male followed by white female, white children, black male and black female. Another powerful photo shows a black nanny and white baby looking in different directions. The same symbolism is present is his photograph of a graduation ceremony. The young graduates face one direction and the weary older gentleman faces the opposite direction. These images present a striking metaphor of the different paths open to each. The vastness of the U. S. is captured in a photo of U. S. 285 in New Mexico and to a lesser extend in other photos. However, those images depict barren land marred by human artifacts that is devoid of any sense of majesty or beauty.

"The Americans" seen through Frank's camera lacks vitality and energy. In the absence of images that depict positive attributes such as energy, hope, compassion, or joy, Frank shows us empty rooms and spaces without people. Some of the images are of poor quality or of such a narrow range of focus that the message is muted.

Frank's purpose may have been merely to document what he saw, but I wonder if he saw only what appeared in the book. He has been credited with documenting the social stratification of America, but decades earlier the more compelling images of Dorothea Lange, Alfred Stieglitz, and Walker Evans, to mention only a select few, produced superior works that had a greater impact. For example, Frank depicts a Detroit assembly line as dark and unattractive, perhaps a fair social statement, but a decade earlier Lewis W. Hinds provided much more compelling photos of work and a more effective argument for social reform.

Finally, "The Americans" lacks page numbers and a list of photos. As a consequence, returning to examine particular images requires a time-consuming, page-turning search. ( )
1 abstimmen Tatoosh | Jul 17, 2017 |
I really love many of these photos and their gentle yet powerful commentary on America in the 1950s (published 1958).

It was nostalgic to read Jack Kerouac's stream-of-consciousness introduction: his unique convoluted descriptions as he experienced these photos. I especially like his line about Robert Frank, " ..he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film." ( )
  Connie-D | Jan 17, 2016 |
hinzugefügt von booksaplenty1949 | bearbeitenLens Culture, Jim Casper (Aug 10, 2017)
 
[Frank] wanted to portray "the kind of civilization born here and spreading elsewhere." And he succeeded not only in recording how the country looked but in capturing its essence, so that The Americans still seems like an accurate portrait of how it feels to live here.
hinzugefügt von Shortride | bearbeitenHarper's Magazine, Francine Prose (bezahlte Seite) (Jan 1, 2010)
 

» Andere Autoren hinzufügen (2 möglich)

AutorennameRolleArt des AutorsWerk?Status
Robert FrankHauptautoralle Ausgabenberechnet
Kerouac, JackEinführungCo-Autoralle Ausgabenbestätigt
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Wikipedia auf Englisch (1)

First published in France in 1958, then the United States in 1959, Robert Frank's The Americans changed the course of twentieth-century photography. In eighty-three photographs, Frank looked beneath the surface of American life to reveal a people plagued by racism, ill-served by their politicians, and rendered numb by a rapidly expanding culture of consumption. Yet he also found novel areas of beauty in simple, overlooked corners of American life. And it was not just his subject matter - cars, jukeboxes, and even the road itself - that redefined the icons of America; it was also his seemingly intuitive, immediate, off-kilter style, as well as his method of brilliantly linking his photographs together thematically, conceptually, formally, and linguistically, that made The Americans so innovative. More of an ode or a poem than a literal document, the book is as powerful and provocative today as it was fifty-five years ago.

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