Robert Frank: Remembered…


Glossing through the pages of one of Americas most profound documents, photographed by one of the most pioneering photographers of his time. A series of eighty-three black and white photographs taken during 1955 -1956 and first published in 1959 and accompanied by a poetic essay written by the most seminal writer of the beat generation Jack Kerouac. A writer with divine improvisational prose, no doubts then that this conceptual photobook became the marker for future photographic monographs. It is in itself a visual poem, for Robert Franks’ photographs are indeed an ode to the real, a homage to the human condition. He scratched the surface of this iconic landscape and revealed the people of a nation plagued by racism and relentless exponential consumption, although this reality defines beauty. It encompasses everything America ever was, a dream, a dream that belies ambiguity. However, Frank captured America’s truth, and from a journalistic perspective that is enlightening. So what of the photographs themselves? Well, over a two-year road trip, Robert Frank had amassed twenty-eight thousand photographs, editing down to eighty-three for the book. A remarkable feat I’m sure which equated to just over a roll of film a day. Reading the images and the stories contained within, one begins to grasp a dark visual literacy to Franks’ work, the Afro-American couple interrupted overlooking the residential area of San Francisco. The road trolley (tram) in New Orleans, with the segregated seating. The images vary from locale to locale, the rodeo at Detroit, a city associated with the Automotive Industry. The bar at Gallup, a city in McKinley County, New Mexico. Then there is the bikers gang at Indianapolis, Afro-Americans looking hip in Denim, that time on those motorcycles is synonymous with iconic actors such as Clarke Gable, Marlon Brando, James Dean and countless others. None the less, let’s retrace our steps a little because, of the most disconcerting aspect of this monograph. It is one I have a problem with knowing that Frank made 28,000 photographs while documenting America for this commission, we now have to accept that this monograph is a representation of the USA. 



Though in reality that must have been a dream too, for Robert Frank, because if you look at other photographers of the day. They documented certain key events that marked changes in American society Central High Hallway (O’Halloran, Thomas 1957) and Van Buren Students (Bledsoe, John 1958). 



So, my question is this; during the time before publication was Robert Frank coerced into ‘an acceptable version’ of his monograph as to superficially hide the ‘truth’ of The Americans? Or, was it, in fact, his artistic interpretation of America. If we scrutinise the landscape of America, two decades earlier, we will discover that it was well documented during The Great Depression, certainly an era that wasn’t overlooked by protagonists Walker Evans (Resettlement Administration 1935-1937), and Dorothea Lange (Farm Security Administration 1936) amongst those, whose work would represent the hardships endured by agricultural workers, pea pickers, and cotton hoers. Arguably by his admission (Art in America, Katz, Lewis 1971), Evans’ work was more objective rather than subjective, citing his photographs did not depict the aesthetic nature of Alfred Stieglitz, whose work was popular at the time. While on the focus of subjectivity, it is here then, we can relate to the work of Robert Frank, as it is the poetic phenomena of The Americans, those critics found difficult to accept; everyone knew those sort of things existed. It is how they are depicted, that makes the photographs much more idiosyncratic, somewhat even emotional, a certain strangeness. Moreover, Robert Frank was an emotional artist, his peers even confirmed his pessimistic wit. So too, do the photographs in the book show a kind of self-awareness, a reflection of how Frank perceived the human condition. As a collector of photographic monographs, this is a book that I wished I had purchased earlier, rather than later in my life. It is an incredible book, but not shocking in comparison to other photographers subjectivity, think Minimata W. Eugene Smith, master of the photographic essay in my opinion. 


Street Photography Literature

Ever just stared at the shelves of a magazine stand at the front covers of the art photography magazines and cast your eyes on the likes of Aesthetica, Black + White, BJP (British Journal of Photography), FOTO8, Inspired Eye, or even LensCulture and wondered if there was a magazine specifically aimed at the genre of ‘Street Photography’? I’m a subscriber of StreetHunters.net and now again our good friend Spyros Papaspyropoulos will do a book review, I’ve done a few myself which you can find here. Recently the guys had a good look at a seemingly new kid on the block; EYESHOT. Comes in the format of a softcover similar to the aforementioned mags. The cover photograph is square lending itself to those who use Instagram to vent their creativity to instantly like it, (see what I did there). The collection of photographers the magazine reads is exceptionally wide-ranging from Dougie Wallace, Jonathan Higbee, to the likes of Vineet Vohra and Gisele Duprez, and many others. The Editor in Chief is Marco Savarese who founded the publication in 2017. It seems not to rival other publications, but because it represents a specific genre, it enhances them, and so too I think other publications seem to make it stand out even more. Inside the covers you are greeted with some very nice blurb about the publication, it’s creator and the stories and photographs contained herein. The pages themselves are printed on Fedrigoni X-PER Premium White paper so quite a bit of weight as you would expect. The photographs vary from white and black backgrounds, which seem to enhance the images. Some are really quite colourful (Vineet Vohra) others just seem quite surreal in a monochromatic style. The content itself has covered recent street photo festivals and on the website, you will find who it specifically partners in the guise of LSPF, ISPF StreetFoto SF. Whilst this does come across as too isolationist and not a wide-ranging representation of other Street Photography Festivals think Miami or Photo Athens for example. The plethora of amazing photographers are definitely what keep me hooked in this publication, the work of all is so very inspiring for this art form. Another interesting aspect to the publication is the limited printed copies available, once they are SOLD OUT! they certainly are. However, all is not lost you can order a digital PDF version which, I’m sure if you are willing to print that out you’ll get by. 


William Eggleston: The Democratic Forest

For any serious collector of the seminal work of William Eggleston, will know that this is no mere slight brushstroke of his oeuvre. William Eggleston famously said of his approach to photography; “I am at war with the obvious”. This statement seems to amplify the banal, colourful, intrinsically linked subject matter. Whether it be a ceiling, a shopping mall carpark, views from restaurant windows or bottles of soda. These recurrent themes are what draws his followers of this dissenter to his artform. 

An Eggleston photograph identifies every day, yet he is at war with the obvious. A twist then that may isolate some critics but, also support and strengthen their respective theory. That yes, the work may seem familiar and boring, but of course, they are right. He is one of many colour photographers; the list seemingly growing. Others have tried to copy his style but failed not having the required tenacity for such a thematic or, indeed a sense of the vernacular language of his photography. Just as the photographic language of Saul Leiter is a very different perspective, it is still an observation of everyday life. I’ve always been a fan of his colour palette, but also, I have been a fan of his early monochromatic work. However, when I view those photographs, I yearn for them to be in colour. Your sense of visual literacy becomes accustomed to a particular style, you learn to appreciate the obvious. Hence my affinity with William Eggleston, he is not an out and out documentarian in the photojournalistic vain, but he is a documentarian who has influenced many a photographer. 

Certainly, his style seems to influence a middle-class English photographer in the guise of Martin Parr, who has published work of colourful cakes and indeed a book aptly titled The Non-Conformists, seems to assert the close relationship with the obvious, these photographers both share. If you’re looking for a post-modernist perspective on social documentary, then this book really doesn’t define itself as such. However, if you’re looking for a book that gives you an insightful perspective on post-modern colour photography, and how colour highlights certain eccentricities and characteristics of southern aristocracy then this is, definitely well worth seeking out.


#AskMayForMoney

What a complete waste of money, two announcements today have made my ears burn ever so slightly hotter. Firstly, the news of the Democratic Unionist Party coalition with a Conservative Government deal that just wants to prop up Brexit. The confidence and supply agreement weighs in at a hefty £1bn for the DUP, all that for ten votes equals ten MPs equals one hundred million each for a seat in the House of Commons. When you equate that to the NHS that would have been worth seven thousand and twenty-six staff nurses on Band 5 pay scale figures •2016/17 for the next five years. However, they’re other pressing matters such as housing, to house the now homeless Camden residents and the survivors of the tragedy of the Grenfell tower block under the Kensington & Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation and their inadequate fire safety measures, resulting in the deaths of seventy-nine residents. The Camden Council had forcibly evicted many of its residents over the weekend from five tower blocks; the Council citing there were hundreds of fire doors missing after several inspections raised awareness of the unfit cladding being sub-standard just as at the Grenfell Tower block. Across the United Kingdom, their have been reports of similar circumstances, in cities such as Liverpool and Plymouth.

However, those residents have not been evicted from their homes which, do beg the question but doesn’t all lives matter? Surely, such a large sum of money which has been bestowed upon the Democratic Unionist Party could have served a better purpose elsewhere, housing those affected by the poor fire safety measures perhaps would be a start. That £1bn DUP deal has had an adverse effect on Sinn Fein also, Gerry Adams states that ‘Sinn Fein will resolutely oppose any attempt to give preferential treatment to British forces’. The President of Sinn Fein formerly said he told Theresa May she is in breach of the Good Friday Agreement when he met the Prime Minister at No. 10. In an announcement to journalists outside a while later, Mr Adams stated: “We disclosed to her quite directly that she was in breach of the Good Friday Agreement, and we ordered those matters in which she was in default in connection to that understanding.” He likewise affirmed they had additionally talked about the likelihood of an acceptance on Irish solidarity. Deal aside, the hard work that cemented a coherent working relationship between us and Northern Ireland could be under threat just to support a Brexit deal with the European Union. Former PM John Major has stated that he is “wary” about the planned deal with the DUP. He was concerned primarily, that the arranged understanding could damage the Northern Irish peace agreement in which the British government remain as an integral but, impartial role. 

Since June 23rd, 2016 it has been a tumultuous year in British politics, firstly on the arrival of a very clear cut decision of the British public to leave the EU, forcing the then Prime Minister David Cameron into resignation, some MPs criticising his decision to do so and for want of a better term a rat leaving a sinking ship. This raised questions on whom should take the helm through the onset of what has become a stormy year, enter a new era of Thatcherism in the guise of Theresa May, the former Home Secretary who on May 17th, 2016 delivered a speech to the Police Federation Conference, an excerpt from that speech follows that focuses on the spending of the Police Federation and its member branches: 

 “Then there are the Police Federation’s accounts. For the past 2 years, I have called these accounts in for review. What they have revealed is spending that has been both questionable and opaque. Branches spending tens of thousands of pounds on presents for retiring Federation representatives – gifts that ordinary rank and file officers would never expect to receive. Other items – like £10,000 on an annual ‘plain clothing allowance’ in one branch - which defy explanation. The fact that some branches own what appear to be holiday homes, within an overall property portfolio worth £31 million.” 

Hmmm, spending seems to be the focus of this rant at the moment, but hey, I am not finished, the best is yet to come. So here it is then, some of you may be Royalist, some of you may not. 

Secondly, today I learned of the grand and frankly over the top launch of the ever so costly £3.5bn HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier. Now, I can see why Jeremy Corbyn is a pacifist rather than wanting to support the over costly defence budget for the UK. The second carrier is the Prince of Wales, also being built at the site in Rosyth, the cost together totals over £6bn. The carriers and the Trident program account for a huge sum of the defence budget, which according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, who monitors the trends in world military expenditure, shows the United Kingdom budget is of 2016 $48.3bn, that is 1.9% of GDP. To the ordinary man in the street, or let’s say to those who have been made homeless, as a result of the failings of this government, it is money wasted. 


Grenfell Tower

Where are the authorities? Where is Red Cross, where is the list of the residents? It is startling how slow the reaction of those who should know better. It also mirrors the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and how suddenly death has become a racial issue. It has most certainly become a political one. What happened to humanity, the last few days have witnessed double standards and how we react to the plight of differing ethnic groups. The latest reports from the forest fires in Portugal give an estimation of 64 dead, that was an act of mother nature and totally unpredictable and sadly unpreventable. However, here in the richest borough of London in a so-called modern high-rise apartment block, they Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) didn’t even have the inclination to heed the warnings as far back as 1984 in an Adam Curtis Documentary, and as recently as November 2016. The report shows how the tower blocks are fundamentally flawed in design; not even a sprinkler system was in place to which, it most certainly could have slowed the advancement of the fire that befell the residents of Grenfell Tower.

What sickens me, is this incident and the other earlier events could have been prevented, had the inspections took place thoroughly and recommendations been adhered, put forward and actioned. Fundamental change has to happen, the investigation into the Grenfell incident has to be a transparent act, which will benefit the residents, their families, the community and future generations who are housed in apartment blocks. A standard which is high should be set for all and not just the upper echelons of society. Fire Safety should not be compromised. The public inquiry has been launched, Scotland Yard has launched their own criminal investigation, and of course, the London Fire Brigade have launched their own respective inquiry, as to the cause of the fire. Whilst many of those who managed to evacuate the premises have speculated that a white-goods appliance was to blame, others have suggested it could have been a grow*, gone wrong. Regardless of the cause, the main protagonist for the fire enveloping the building is no doubt the materials specified for the cladding. 

Eye-witness reports have documented as to why the fire spread so quickly on the outside of the block was the cladding, here then lies the blame and initial lead for the inquiry, though LFB has suggested it could be years before we have answers. Seemingly another failing of the authorities, this is, it would seem is Britain’s, ‘Hurricane Katrina’. 


* Grow - Homegrown Cannabis Utilising LED Hydroponics

Using Format