INTERVIEW // “Robert Frank, Sarah Greenough, Ed Ruscha and Joel Meyerowitz on ‘The Americans'” (2009)

A half century ago, one photographer took to the road, visiting, bars, factories, cemeteries, documenting a country in transition. His book was called, The Americans, his name, Robert Frank. 

Hitchhikers leaving Blackfoot, Idaho towards Butte, Montana, 1956

(Transcript from a Tom Cole / NPR segment, 2009)


Cole: The Americans was actually reviled when it was first published in this country, say Sarah Greenough, who curated the current National Gallery show.

Greenough: Popular Photography asked a number of writers to critique the book, and almost all of them were very negative. It was described as a sad poem by a very sick person.

Cole: The Americans offered a very different view of America than the wholesome non-confrontational photo essays offered by such magazines as Popular Photography, and Life. Robert Frank captured people who were not always sharing in the American dream of the 1950’s; factory workers in Detroit, transvestites in New York, the black riders in a segregated trolley in New Orleans. He didn’t even get much support from the art world, as he recalled in 1994, the last time the National Gallery mounted a show of his work.

Robert Frank: The Museum of Modern Art wouldn’t even sell the book, you know. I mean, certain things one doesn’t forget so easy. But, the younger people caught on,

Joel Meyerowitz: It was the vision that emanated from the book that lead not only me, but my whole generation of photographers out into the American landscape, in a sense, the lunatic sublime of America.

Cole: Joel Meyerowitz was one of the young photographers inspired by The Americans. So were Garry Winogrand, and Lee Friedlander, and Ed Ruscha.

Ed Ruscha: Robert Frank came out here and he just showed that you could see the USA until you spit blood.


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