With Robert Frank’s passing earlier this month I have read lots of tributes since and I have given some thought to how his work impacted my development as a photographer.
There is no doubt that The Americans was one of the most important things to happen to the medium, I remember Bill Jay talking about that fact when I was studying at ASU, listing it as one of the three most important things in establishing the medium in the art world. I have a copy of the book, have seen his prints, know the work well and I absolutely respect and like it. But I would never look to Frank and say he is the photographer whose work has impacted me most. I am a Winogrand fan, and I know Frank’s work impacted him, and so many others that impacted me so maybe, by proxy, Frank had a bigger impact on me than I realize.
I just read A.D. Coleman’s article on Robert Frank which has some fantastic insight. One thing that jumped out to me was the fact that Frank moved on from The Americans to film and other projects. He never did another photography series like The Americans. I think its interesting because when you look at photographers like Winogrand, Friedlander, or whomever you learn a lot by comparing their photographs over a long time period. You learn about the subject matter in greater detail (in most cases our society) and you learn about the photographer personally. It is obviously different with Frank because he leaves the documentary style of The Americans behind and moves on so there is still work that offers insight to the artist but you can not follow the change of society through his work.
For me, I experience life by photographing. Even if I don’t have a camera, visually I am constantly focusing on elements of my world and framing them in my mind. Sometimes it is actually hard not to that. I think there is a lot of value in doing long term series like most of my work. I love being able to compare things over say a 30 year span and hope that many of my series will go well beyond 50 years. It would be interesting to see Frank’s work if had continued over a long period of time, maybe it would have been too much for him. Maybe the great initial success of The Americans prevented that. Lots to consider, but I wanted to take a moment and remember an icon for his contribution to the medium.