Forging ahead with the Robert Frank project, Steidl has released two new books of Robert’s work --
Both of these books feature work that precedes The Americans and much of what we are privy to in them has not been seen before.
The first book,
What is interesting here is that Frank made a couple copies of a spiral bound book of this work in 1949 (similar to his now famous Black and White and Things) and mailed a copy to his mother in
Some of this work appeared in Incas to Indios, the book published by Delpire that included Pierre Verger and Warner Bischof. To me there was always something unsatisfying about that book even though I enjoy the photographs and layout. To see this work together and sequenced on its own serves as an interesting guide to Frank’s ideas of how to link images together.
There is no text to
In the late 1940s after he emigrated to
In an editorial note in the back of this book it is mentioned that Frank’s experiences in
Several of these photos have been seen elsewhere (such as my favorite of a child seeming to hold a monstrosity of a horse at bay while his companions flee) but I think what brings this book down is the edit. There are a few images that probably should have been left out even though I go out of my way to see every “new” image by Frank that I can. One other curiosity is that a fine vertical image of a couple in a streetcar appears to be cropped oddly when an uncropped version appeared in the Steidl catalog announcing the book.
I like the size of this book (almost the same trim size as Pierre Verger’s Indians of Peru and with similar dark red endpapers) and the printing is as fine as the others but the design is problematic to my eyes. One trait is to go over the gutter with certain images and although I am lightening up on my attitude to such things -- here they push only about 1/5th of the photo over to the other page. I don’t understand the necessity as they are not gaining much “real estate” for the photo while adding a huge divider to it. Other spreads work much better where the images -- bled to the page edge on the longest ends -- meet in the gutter and form a diptych across the spread. Most of those make for wonderful pairings of images.
Robert Frank is my other favorite photographer so I am probably much more forgiving than I would be had someone else’s name been on the cover. Several friends of mine seem to think that a book like this waters down a great man’s oeuvre coming so late in life but I say keep them coming. They may not always work as books but then maybe he just raised the bar so high that our image of him needs to be brought back down to human terms. Perhaps in the end, that is what that odd evening at the Walter Reade Theater was all about.