Sometimes a photo can change the world. Can change the way we see and think about the world we live in. And sometimes a photographer comes along with a body of work that is a radical departure from what we are accustomed to seeing and we stop in awe. Maybe we even hold our breath.
One such photographer passed yesterday at the age of 94. Robert Frank was a Swiss born American photographer who documented American life on a road trip across the country in the 1950s. The book was appropriately titled, The Americans.
The Americans is not a pretty picture book. It reveals many of the injustices that took place at the time. On the surface that was a rather bold statement to make. To turn a mirror on our society and reveal things that one didn’t discuss in polite company. But his photographic style was also very different from the standards of the time.
Something that I quite appreciate about Frank’s photography is how he dared to photograph America as he saw it and also his dislike of the so-called rules of photography that were made popular by Henri Cartier-Bresson.
For many, Cartier-Bresson is seen as the godfather of street photography. Perhaps more importantly, he was a founder of the elite Magnum group. Frank was not to become a Magnum member. Likely because of his disregard for the rules.
The fact remains that neither Frank nor Cartier-Bresson called themselves street photographers. These are labels that were given to their work after-the-fact. Labels are not always helpful.
I am fortunate to have met and photographed Robert Frank in front of his apartment in New York City in May of this year. I thanked him for his contribution to the world of photography. Somehow I wish I had said more. Frank may be departed but his photography is still as relevant as it ever was. And The Americans is still in print.