When I think back over my long history of becoming a photographer, still becoming by the way because you should never stop trying to make better images, there are only two photographers who have had a major influence on my own work: Edward Weston and Robert Frank.
I learned to make images by shooting them and reading Andreas Feininger’s books. They still sit on my bookshelf next to Ansel Adam’s more famous series of books about photography. Adams was a classical pianist and his approach to photography was based on precision. Many of Adam’s images express cold precision. For Feininger, control of your images was very important but not to the exclusion of the emotions the image created in the viewer. Perhaps a subtle difference but it made perfect sense to me.
I learned to see by looking at Weston’s and Frank’s work. Weston was a master of formalism whose landscapes revealed the patterns of nature. Robert Frank was “the street photographer.” Yes Henri Cartier-Bresson was the pioneer of street photography and I love his images. However, Robert Frank pushed the genre to an entirely new level.
I am still looking at Frank’s images. His seminal book, “The Americans” faces out on my bookshelf so the cover image is always present. The man made over 28,000 images and selected just 83 for the book. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of its publication, a new edition of the book was released in 2008. In contrast to the original, all the photographs in the book were uncropped – presented the way Robert Frank had originally shot them.
His photographs remind me of Jean Renoir’s films. There is deep insight into the human soul and enormous picture space. Nothing is square or linear or shallow. It’s all messy and lonely and vast. Every time I look at his photographs or those that have extended his work through their own I know something more about all of us and realize how little we know at all.
RIP, Robert Frank. 9/9/19