Tag Archives: The Americans

The Americans List: A Salute to Robert Frank

Photographers the world over need no introduction to Robert Frank’s seminal 1950s work The Americans, an exploration of the American ideal from his outsider’s perspective as a Swiss émigré. Taken on a series of road trips around the country, the resulting intuitively-sequenced images —produced with funding from a Guggenheim fellowship—reflect both the dark undercurrents and poetic beauty of American culture.

Originally published in Paris in 1958 and the U.S. a year later, the book’s hallowed pages—containing a mere 83 images—have become one of the most referenced and revered photographic works. Many of the individual frames reside firmly in the collective memory of contemporary photographers who consciously and subconsciously reference the images on a daily basis.

Three years ago, an extensive retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art provided a fascinating and exhaustive insight to The Americans. The show, entitled Looking In, also inspired and facilitated photographer Jason Eskenazi’s recently published appreciation, The Americans List.

In 2009, Eskenazi—himself the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship—was working as a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Every day for two months, even on Mondays when the exhibition was closed to the public, he stood in close proximity with the work, studying it compulsively, attending special events and asking questions of MET curator Jeff Rosenheim.

While guarding the show, Eskenazi started to ask photographers he knew—famous or not—about their favorite images from the show. Over the next two years, Eskenazi compiled their answers, along with their explanations and thoughts about the work. His compilations eventually evolved into his own book, published this month by Red Hook Editions. In the foreward, Eskenazi writes:

The Americans is probably the one book that connects more photographers than any other, so while guarding the show, I saw many photography colleagues enter. I began asking them what was their knock-out favorite image. Though many said it was too hard to choose and many images were important to them I insisted. I discovered that many of the answers revealed much more about the photographers themselves.”

The Americans List assembles selections by 276 photographers from Joel Meyerowitz (Canal Street – New Orleans. plate #19) and Joseph Koudelka (Covered car – Long Beach, Califonia. plate #34) to Eskenazi’s own personal favorite (Men’s room, railway station – Memphis, Tenn. Plate 52). Eskenazi considers the book a present to the photographic community and a homage to a great living photographer.

Guarding the exhibition also afforded Eskenazi the opportunity to meet the legendary photographer, first at the exhibition opening and then at Frank’s house in New York City, where he asked Frank to confirm the long standing rumor of his own favorite photograph from The Americans (San Francisco. Plate 72).

Eskenazi quit his day job at the end of the Looking In exhibition and has since returned full time to his life as a photographer. “I became very intimate with the work,” Eskenazi says. “It brought me back to life. And Frank was very moved by the book when he was recently given a copy in Nova Scotia.”

Clark Winter

Nova Scotia
September, 2012

Jason Eskenazi is a Istanbul based photographer. See more of his work at JasonEskenazi.com.

The Americans List is published by Red Hook Editions and available through the photo-eye bookstore.

Delpire & Co., Opening Tonight



 

Delpire season is upon us.

Tonight Aperture Gallery launches the New York City run of Delpire & Co., opening their W27th street space to the public, showcasing a rich, multimedia exhibition celebrating the revered curator, editor, publisher, and overall champion of photography, Robert Delpire.
In the next several weeks, a comprehensive retrospective of Delpire’s career will be exhibited across four venues in New York City: Aperture Gallery, The Gallery at Hermès, Cultural Services of the French Embassy, and La Maison Française. Concurrent with Delpire & Co., Pace/MacGill and Howard Greenberg will have exhibitions on view in celebration of Robert Delpire’s life and work.

Here’s what you can expect to see throughout New York City:

 

Aperture Gallery


On view: May 9 through July 19

Highlights: Classical and seminal publications by now-iconic photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Klein, Robert Frank (see: “The Americans”), Josef Koudelka, and Sarah Moon. Delpire’s work with magazines will also be featured, including the very first issue of Neuf (founded by Robert Delpire at the ripe age of 23), and Nouvel Observateur Spécial Photo, as well as advertising projects for diverse clients from Cacharel, Citroën, L’Oréal, and the French Ministry of Culture.

 

Cultural Services of the French Embassy


On view: May 11 through June 6

Highlights: The embassy will be exhibiting the original French editions of beloved illustrator Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and Crocodile Tears.


The Gallery at Hermès/Fondation d’entreprise Hermès


On view: May 11 through July 19

Highlights: Robert Delpire’s famed Photo Poche series is on view, as well as prints from contemporary photographers such as Harry Gruyaert, Jehsong Baak, Michel Vanden Eeckhout, Michael Ackerman, Francesco Zizola, Raymond Depardon, Robert Doisneau, Paolo Pellegrin, Marc Riboud.

 

La Maison Française of New York University


On view: May 18 through July 19

Highlights: This exhibition focuses on the Poche Illustrateur series, celebrating notable illustrators such as Roman Cieślewicz, Honoré Daumier, Etienne Delessert, Guy Peellaert, and Saul Steinberg.

 

› In addition, two supporting exhibitions will be on view; Sarah Moon at Howard Greenberg Gallery, featuring new work, and Pace/MacGill Gallery will exhibit works by prominent photographers such as Robert Frank, Josef Koudelka, Duane Michals, Paolo Roversi, and Alfred Stieglitz.

Visual Supplement: This week in the magazine The New Yorker ran photographs by Sarah Moon and Lee Freidlander, both of which are part of exhibitions celebrating the work of Delpire. Online, The New Yorker presents a stunning and concise slideshow summary of books and photographs from among the displays at Aperture, Hermès, Pace/MacGill, and Howard Greenberg.

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Delpire & Co. is coproduced by Rencontres d’Arles, la Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Delpire Editeur, and Aperture Foundation.Delpire & Co. has been made possible with the support of the National Endowment for the Arts, Fondation d’entreprise Hermès, Etant donnés: The French-American Fund for Contemporary Art, the E.T. Harmax Foundation, and with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Retouching a Classic: ‘Less Américains’

In the digital age, touching the work of established photographic masters can be sensitive business. Recently a Swedish artist named Sanna Dullaway applied her colorizing skills to several historical photographs that included Dorthea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” and Eddie Adams’ harrowing image of an on-the-spot execution of a Vietcong on the streets of Saigon. The debate surrounding these modified versions was whether the interpretation was an improvement that could somehow be more powerful emotionally—due to addition of a color palette and the ability to reach newer generations who disconnect when they see black and white images—or simple vandalism.

The artist Pavel Maria Smejkal in his Fatescapes series took his appropriation of historical images one step further by digitally removing the people from images such as Nick Ut’s photograph of a young Vietnamese girl running from a napalm attack and the aforementioned Adams image. By leaving only the landscapes or streetscapes to play on our subconscious memory of historical places and events, he questions the limitations of a photograph’s accuracy at the representation of history.

Perhaps the most provocative example in terms of potential copyright infringement is when the artist Sherrie Levine re-photographed some of Walker Evans’ famous images from the 1930s Farm Security Administration project and presented them unaltered and with her name (the series was called After Walker Evans). Many viewers were outraged. Her act called into question many issues regarding a photograph’s author, copyright (Legally the FSA photographs are owned by the American public, which financed the project so there is no copyright infringement case that could be brought against Levine) and the portrayal of the poor. To some it was Art, but to others, it amounted to Blasphemy.

After Evans, Robert Frank may well be the most influential photographer the medium has seen. Frank’s book The Americans, published in the United States by Grove Press in 1959, was equally celebrated and reviled for its view of the U.S. and its citizenry. Today there is hardly a contemporary photographer who does not acknowledge that Frank accomplished greatness while photographing America for two years on a Guggenheim Fellowship.

The Americans hasn’t escaped its own touches with appropriation. In his newest bookwork Less Américains, London-based artist Mishka Henner takes his humorous title from the French Edition of Frank’s book Les Américains, published in 1958 by Robert Delpire in Paris. By scanning and applying Photoshop to Frank’s images, Henner has proceeded to remove most of the vital subject matter from all 83 photographs—leaving only small details hovering around the frame like background props on an empty theater stage.

Of course, as the title suggests, Less Américains does away with the “Americans” in Frank’s photographs so all that remains, for example, of the Hoboken City Fathers are a line of hats and some political bunting hanging on a two-by-four. And what has been spared in the most famous of all New Orleans street car picture which so perfectly expressed the implied race hierarchy of Jim Crow in the United States? A few vague, unidentifiable shapes that sit within the frame like mismatched puzzle pieces. To quote Jack Kerouac, who wrote an introduction to the American edition of Frank’s book, “The humour, the sadness, the EVERYTHING-ness and American-ness of these pictures (!)” linger like a ghost in these secondary elements.

Less Américains includes an introduction by the artist Elisabeth Tonnard that takes the form of a concrete poetry version of Kerouac’s prose. Tonnard’s approach was to systematically white-out the individual letters A.M.E.R.I.C.A.I.N.S. from Kerouac’s text, leaving an incomprehensible soup of vowels and consonants. His “…basketa pittykats…” becomes the even more cryptic “…B k t p tty-k t …”

Well, what can we make of Henner’s reworking of this masterpiece? I think Kerouac said it best: “What poem this is, what poems can be written about this book of pictures some day by some young new writer high by candlelight bending over them describing every grey mysterious detail.”

Less Américains was published earlier this year.

Jeffrey Ladd is a photographer, writer, editor and founder of Errata Editions. Visit his blog here.