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The Art of Documentary Photography


The Art of Documentary Photography

In the mid 50s, Swiss-born New Yorker Robert Frank embarked on a ten-thousand-mile road trip across post-war America, capturing thousands of photographs of all levels of a rapidly changing society. The resultant photo-book, The Americans, represents a seminal moment in both photography and in America's emerging understanding of itself. To mark the book's fiftieth anniversary, Jonathan Day revisits this pivotal work and contributes a thoughtful and revealing critical commentary. Though the importance of The Americans has been widely acknowledged, it still retains much of its mystery. This comprehensive analysis places it thoroughly in the context of contemporary photography, literature, painting, music and advertising.

The book is now in its fourth imprint, has appeared in a number of bestseller lists and has been positively reviewed in the UK, America and Australia.

Prof. C. Chiarenza, Univ.Rochester, writes in the American Libraries Association Journal "Day's readings of The Americans are rich with storytelling, this is a most rewarding way to engage Frank's work. Readers will enjoy an intense experience - recommended."

Eamonn McCabe, picture editor The Guardian, writes "I first met Robert Frank when he was in London for the opening of his show at Tate Modern in 2004. He didn’t say much as I nervously tried to take a couple of photographs of the great man with my own Leica. We were both crammed in a tiny lift as we made our way up to his huge exhibition. But Robert Frank never did say very much and there is not a single word by him in The Americans, his seminal book of photographs taken in just two years in the mid 1950son a Guggenheim grant. You get the impression that even the meagre captions at the end of the book werereluctantly dragged out of him by some poor curator or editor in search of at least some information about a set of some of the greatest photographs ever taken.

Jonathan Day in this book has expertly taken over as Frank’s narrator, bravely describing each photograph and putting it into context with the other 82 in The Americans. You should read this book and look at Frank’s photographs while listening to some John Coltrane saxophone, preferably on an old record player crackling away in the background.

There are no rules in jazz and Frank broke all the rules with his Leica. There are heads missing in his pictures, but it makes them stronger. The face nearest you is often out of focus, but it makes the background even more powerful. His subjects rarely look at the camera, but you are engaged, you can’t look away. The American flag is everywhere and threads through the whole book, binding it together.

As Jack Kerouac says in his introduction to The Americans
“To Robert Frank I now give this message: You got eyes.”
And now we have the word”

The book has been acquired by a large number of national libraries (including the British Library, Smithsonian Library and Australian National Library), and prestigious University libraries internationally (Yale, Brown, Princeton etc.)


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