Farewell, Robert Frank, a true American revolutionary

His once ridiculed images broke all the conventions of photography in the 1950s, but they still resonate today.

An image of America covered with warts by a man without joy, “writes the photographer and critic Minor White. A sad poem for a very sick person, “sniffed Popular Photography.

The object of his contempt was The Americans, a collection of images of the American life of photographer Robert Frank, who died last week at age 94.

Today, it is difficult to recognize Frank’s revolutionary work when it was first published 60 years ago. His style, his mode of observation, his subject have become so entrenched in contemporary photography that the impact can only be measured by the mockery of conventional criticism.

Frank’s pictures broke most of the conventions of photography. They were not artistically framed or carefully balanced. They composed “blur, grain, muddy shows, drunken horizons, and meaningless general surveillance,” in the pejorative terms of popular photography.

No American publisher would touch the book at first. It was published for the first time in 1958 under the title The Americans by the Parisian publisher Robert Delpire, in an edition adorned with comments from an extraordinary collection of writers: Simone de Beauvoir, William Faulkner, Henry Miller, and John Steinbeck. The following year, it was finally released in the United States. UU., With an introduction by Jack Kerouac. “With one hand,” Kerouac remarked, “he sucked a sad American poem to film.”

The book was the product of a two-year trip across the country. Breaking the photographic conventions allowed Frank to capture a different America. He fired on gas stations and guests; He photographed cowboys and workers. There are photographs with smiles, but it is above all a portrait of melancholy and tension under the brilliance and self-satisfaction of the United States after the war. These are images that seem as significant today as they were 60 years ago.