Monday, January 15, 2018

Burk Frey reviews Robert Frank

     I noticed that iconic Swiss-born American photographer Robert Frank escaped review all last semester.

U.S. 90, en Route to Del Rio, Texas (1955)
     His seminal work is a 1958 book entitled The Americans, in which Frank scrutinized everyday scenes of an adopted country to which he never fully belonged. His honest street scenes and portraits were captured with a detached bemusement, cynicism, or even mere examination, and represented a stark shift in the photography world. "The Americans challenged all the formal rules laid down by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans, whose work Frank admired but saw no reason to emulate. More provocatively, it flew in the face of the wholesome pictorialism and heartfelt photojournalism of American magazines like Life and Time. The Americans was shocking – and enduringly influential – because it simply showed things as they were," writes critic Sean O'Hagan. "It remains perhaps the most influential photography book of the 20th century."

     I had the chance to see Frank's body of work in person at the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago. I was struck by a few things. As profound as some of Frank's moments were, others appeared, at least at first glance, to be equally mundane.

Bank - Houston, Texas (1955)
     Yet Frank also struck me as particularly that kind of artist, like Kahlo or Warhol or Pollock, for whom the work alone — interpreted in a vacuum — reveals an incomplete picture. Like those other 20th century innovators, the stories surrounding him and his personality seemed larger than life. Whether it was getting arrested for having a suspicious accent, or his irreverent photographic style upending the status quo, or his provocative filmmaking (including one with the Rolling Stones called Cocksucker Blues), or the mystique of having the forward in his book quotably and notably penned by Jack Kerouac, Frank's work is best analyzed in full context of his persona.

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1 comment:

  1. I think his more recent work deserves a look as well. It is raw and more installation based or at least photo as bas relief...check it out.