Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Americans

Photograph from The Americans showing a segregated bus in New OrleansIn 1959, as the country began to wake up (again) to its legacy of racism, an artsy photography book by a Swiss-born photographer was issued by Grove Press. It was so unsettling. Robert Frank's masterpiece, The Americans, took a cold, critical look at 1950s America and exposed it in a style evocative of the 1930s Farm Security Administration photographs. It was scorching. Things were supposed to be better now--the Depression was over and we had won the war. But, somehow they weren't.

Cover of French edition of The AmericansJack Kerouac wrote a Beat-inspired introduction that gave the book a counter-culture kick and set Frank up as a poet employing the medium of film and light. What most people didn't realize was that the book of minimally captioned photographs, without text except for Kerouac's short intro, had been released a year earlier in France. The French version contains the same images, but also an extended essay on American history and culture by French poet Alain Bosquet. The essay contextualizes Frank's work and simultaneously uses the images as illustrations. The two books set side by side represent very different aesthetics attempting to do different things for different audiences.

Photo from The American of apartment windows in Hoboken, New Jersey
We are now fortunate to have both "firsts" in our collections. Ask for Rare E169.02 .F713 1958 for Les Américains. The Americans will be cataloged soon. Come take a look and see what has changed and what hasn't.