Danziger Gallery presents an exhibition devoted to Robert Frank American photographs, his best known and arguably most important work. The exhibition will be comprised of 40 photographs – 15 from Frank’s seminal book “The Americans” (now celebrating the 60th anniversary of its American publication) and 25 unpublished works from Frank’s travels at the time.
Robert Frank died today. As Sean O’Hagan wrote for The Guardian “it is impossible to imagine photography’s recent past and overwhelmingly confusing present without (Robert Frank’s) lingeringly pervasive presence. Frank was 31 in 1955 when he secured the Guggenheim Grant… He shot around 28,000 pictures. When Les Americains was published by Robert Delpire in France in 1958, it consisted of just 83 black and white images, but it changed the nature of photography, what it could say and how it could say it… it remains perhaps the most influential photography book of the 20th century… (Robert Frank) caught what Diane Arbus called the ‘hollowness’ at the heart of many American lives, the chasm between the American dream and the everyday reality.” One of the photographers I know in Cape Breton, Chad Tobin, @tobinchad, has been photographing Robert Frank at his summer home in Mabou, Nova Scotia for ten years now. He and Robert Frank had a special connection.
The Laura Israel-directed Don’t Blink made its world premier last fall during the New York Film Festival and according to our reviewer Judy Gelman Myers, the documentary offers a multifaceted view of the photographer so well known for The Americans. “This is Robert Frank the funny guy, the experimental filmmaker, the fan of the ’60s Beat scene,” she wrote.
When the current Robert Frank exhibit at New York University closes next week, it’s really closing: The images will be handed over to photo students who will, in a private ceremony, draw on them or sculpt them into some creation of their choosing. Then they will destroy them.
During his trip, Frank shot 767 rolls of film yielding about 27,000 images. He edited that down to about 1,000 work prints, spread them across the floor of his studio and tacked them to the walls for a final edit. Out of a year and a half of work, Frank chose just 83 images.
You are free and you risk something by taking a photograph. It’s not taking a snapshot of your sister. You risk because this is maybe not the way people think one should photograph. So you go out on a more different road. There is a risk involved in that. And I think if an artist doesn’t take risks, then it’s not worth it.
A couple years ago I had heard rumored that the eccentric Japanese publisher Kazuhiko Motomura was working on a special "book" on Robert Frank's contact sheets from The Americans. That rumor had quieted a bit after Sarah Greenough's masterwork Looking In seemed to beat it to the punch by reproducing every sheet that had an image that appeared in Frank's final published edit, but Motomura proceeded anyway and Robert Frank: 81 Contact Sheets from The Americans is out. I have seen it and I have to say it is pretty amazing.
The five-exposure contact strip of 35-millimeter Kodak Plus-X film begins unremarkably enough. Frame 12: Helmeted policemen gather around a motorcycle. Frame 13: Pedestrians move one way or the other on the sidewalk. (Not bad. Some promise there.) Frame 14: A woman and children gaze up at something above them. Frame 15: Well-dressed shoppers appear to be peering into a store window.
And then, suddenly, there’s Frame 16.