PRINT May 1970


The Americans

THE AMERICANS, by Robert Frank. Aperture, Inc., New York (republished) 1959/1969.

In 1956 Robert Frank, a Swiss photographer living in New York, applied to the Guggenheim Foundation for funds to photograph America. In his proposal he offered “. . . to produce a social document the visual impact of which will nullify explanation.” The grant was awarded, and after it another grant followed. For two years Robert Frank traveled throughout America photographing almost every aspect of our culture. In 1959 he published these photographs, first in Europe (Delpire Press, Les Americans) and later in America, where Grove Press brought out an edition.

The Americans had an overwhelming effect. There were no indifferent responses to Frank’s photographs; people either loved them or hated them. However, due to poor promotion, very few people outside of the art world ever saw the book. It did not sell well, was soon remaindered, and became, in a short time, a collectors’ piece selling for as much as $25.00.

Aperture, Inc., has republished The Americans and brought it up to date. It includes, for example, an additional section on Frank’s films (Pull My Daisy, The Sin of Jesus, O.K. End Here, and Me and My Brother) which he began making in 1960.

This new edition has a very complete feel about it. As an artist Frank is well-represented and the reader comes away with a strong sense of Frank’s sensibility. Frank chose to photograph America in the late 1950s, when much of what we are experiencing in our lives today was just beginning to be felt. Now, almost ten years after its first appearance, it is perhaps even more important than it was in 1959, its cutting edge sharper than ever, its candor undiminished. It clearly demonstrates Frank’s importance to photography. His unorthodox use of lenses and light and his superb camera handling have had a very telling influence on a whole new generation of photographers. There has been no other volume of work published since that has brought with it as much esthetic content, or has had such an effect on the medium.

Ralph Gibson