An Americans Tale

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Robert Frank. Elevator - Miami Beach, 1955.

Before Robert Frank's “The Americans” show opens at the Met on September 22nd and Frank fever hits New York, this uncredited story from NPR’s website (which I've taken the liberty of editing) shines some fresh light on one of Frank’s lesser known images from the series:

One of photographer Robert Frank's most famous images aroused a particular interest from his friend, beat writer Jack Kerouac. In his introduction to Frank's book of photos The Americans, Kerouac writes, "That little ole lonely elevator girl looking up sighing in an elevator full of blurred demons, what's her name & address?"

Now we know.

Today, Sharon Collins lives in San Francisco. About 10 years ago she visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and found herself drawn to a particular photo — the same photo Jack Kerouac wrote about.

"I stood in front of this particular photograph for probably a full five minutes," she says. "And then it dawned on me that the girl in the picture was me."

The iconic shot shows a young girl, pressing an elevator button, looking up with an enigmatic expression. At the time, her name was Sharon Goldstein, and she lived in Miami Beach. At fifteen, she got a summer job as an elevator girl at the Sherry Frontenac Hotel. She says the hotel was always full of tourists, and many of them had cameras. Although she wishes she remembers this particular tourist, she doesn't. But she pieced together what happened by looking at Frank's contact sheet.

"Robert Frank took about four photos of me without a flash in the elevator. I didn't know he was taking them. And then when the elevator emptied he asked me to turn around and smile at the camera. So I flashed a smile, put my hands on my hips, and hammed it up for about eight or ten frames."

From the single image that was chosen for The Americans, Kerouac guessed she was lonely. But Collins thinks otherwise.

"It's not necessarily loneliness, it's ... dreaminess."

Photo by Ian Padgham. 2009.


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