From San Francisco

Friday, May 22, 2009

Map charting the three principal trips Robert Frank took from June 1955 to June 1956, shooting pictures for what was to become "The Americans".

At the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, I had the chance to catch up with the exhibition Looking In: Robert Frank’s “The Americans” which originated at the National Gallery and now runs through August 23 in San Francisco before moving to The Met in New York.

As most of you know, Robert Franks groundbreaking book was published 50 years ago and pretty much changed the course of photography. With a sensitive and yet tough eye, Frank looked at America and saw a profound sense of sadness under the rah-rah facade. He noted the changing iconography of America and noted that cars, diners, gas stations, and even the road itself were the new symbols of contemporary life. He saw cracks and divisions between rich and poor, black and white, those with power and those without, and recorded his observations in a seemingly loose but obviously controlled manner – shocking the establishment with his blurred foregrounds, tilted horizons, and off-kilter compositions. Frank’s vision of America was a mix of jazz and blues to his friend and supporter Walker Evans’ classical symphonies and perhaps shockingly every picture holds up today.

It’s a fabulous show, presenting some of Frank’s work prior to "The Americans", showing how the book came together, and then plunging you into a breathtaking display of all 83 pictures from the book laid out in sequence. I obviously can’t show all that – and the book is readily available in it’s 50th anniversary edition – but here’s a special treat:

Right before you enter the first room, there’s a huge display of three enormous frames in which a selection of 11 x 14 inch prints are arranged according to Frank’s memory to simulate the way he pinned up pictures on his wall to edit the book. A number of the prints were ones that didn’t make the final cut and I don’t believe that I, or indeed many people have ever seen them before. So here they are. Enjoy!


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