"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. “I was tired of romanticism,” Frank told me, “I wanted to present what I saw, pure and simple.”
Frank’s America is a place of shadows, real and metaphorical. His Americans look furtive, lonely, suspicious. He caught what Diane Arbus called the “hollowness” at the heart of many American lives, the chasm between the American dream and the everyday reality. With his handheld camera, Frank embraced movement and tilt and grain. Contemporary critics reacted with a mixture of scorn and outrage, accusing him of being anti-American as well as anti-photography. A review in Practical Photography dismissed the book’s “meaningless blur, grain, muddy exposures, drunken horizons and general sloppiness”. The Americans portrayed a place and a people that many Americans just could not, or did not want to see: a sad, hard, divided country that seemed essentially melancholic rather than heroic. As Jack Kerouac put it in his famous introduction, Robert Frank “sucked a sad poem out of America.”
What I Think:
The realism in Franks photography in the series "The Americans" is not shocking to us nowadays as we have become desensitised to such images, such is the fashion to shoot in this anti-aesthetic way now. Indeed, I recognise my own style in the works of Frank - in terms of the style of shooting.
Street photography, as a genre, is now, of course, flooded with this type of aesthetic - uncomposed, gritty, 'real'
What is important to me, when looking at these iconic images, is that I want to take this reality to the next level of modernity - add the next stage in viewing consumption. I think street photography is the right base point for me because of the notion that we can all find familiarity in street images and that makes us feel comfortable, or it intrigues our interest in an 'us and them' sense. We can look at street photography and make quick assumptions about the sights before us. I think my quest for the real, is exactly that - what are those thoughts and assumptions we make?
Levitts collection of street photographs features an innocuous amount of images depicting the daily life of children; playing, learning, imitating. I like the raw innocence of these images and how recognisable and almost predictable their play is. This makes for a timeless narrative, dated only by the clothing and background elements. I would like to try shooting a number of children for my work, but sadly I feel that I can't because of how our society is today.