The Americans – Robert Frank’s American Road Trip

The Americans is arguably the best photography book ever published. It is the photographic evidence of a 2 year road trip that Robert Frank took as a Guggenheim fellow in 1955. Often traveling alone or sometimes with his young family, he set out to document this new to him country. He is Swiss and was encouraged by Walker Evans to make such a journey.

Heading our in a 1950 Ford coupe, he ranged to all corners of the compass. His trip was not to photograph the rich, the downtrodden but to capture it all. The first printing of the book was in Europe by Robert Delpire; it included text by Simone de BeauvoirErskine CaldwellWilliam FaulknerHenry Miller and John Steinbeck

The book was eventually picked up by Grove Press in this country, leaving behind the text as it was felt that this would add to the controversy already swirling around the photographs. Many critics at the time felt that the book was poking fun at the United States ( which it was but isn’t that the point of a good photo essay? -my opinion). Others didn’t appreciate that not all photography has to be in focus.

I have not found the exact road map that Frank followed but it is clear to me he achieved his stated goals.

Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected. Most of my photographs are of people; they are seen simply, as through the eyes of the man in the street. There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment. This kind of photography is realism. But realism is not enough–there has to be vision, and the two together can make a good photograph. It is difficult to describe this thin line where matter ends and mind begins. – Robert Frank – From pages 20-22 of Aperture, vol. 9, no. 1 (1961)

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