September 24, 2009

Robert Frank's "The Americans"

Fifty years ago, in 1959, the Swiss born photographer Robert Frank published a book that although it only sold 1,100 copies at the time, has since become lauded as a classic and a must-read on every short list of essential texts on photography. That book was "The Americans" a collection of 83 black and white photographs taken in the course of several cross-country car trips made by Mr Frank and his family in 1955 and 1956. Supplemented with essays by Jack Kerouac, John Dos Passos and others, the book provided an inside look at the "real" America as seen through a foreigner's eyes. Blunt and poignant, the photos depicted a vast cross section of people, landscapes and interiors. Black and white, rich and poor, barren and opulent. Needless to say, this in-your-face look at the United States by a non-native son met with mixed reviews. But ultimately it forced Americans to take a closer look at who they were and how they were perceived.

Fast forward to 2009 and a shift in America's self-identity as well as a new appreciation for the art of photography and you have a nation-wide celebration of this seminal work. Now on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art is "Looking In: Robert Frank's 'The Americans'" - an homage to the man and the book that had a profound influence on generations of photographers and how people looked at their work.

For the first time the New York audience will be able to view all 83 of the published photographs as well as the contact sheets, earlier photos, a short film by Frank and most of the 9 editions of "The Americans" in various languages and formats. I think many visitors will be struck by how insightful these images were at the time and how contemporary they remain to this day.

Organized by the National Gallery of Art where the exhibition debuted in January, the show makes its third and final stop in New York where it will remain on view until January 2010.

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