Archive for the ‘Photographers’ Category

Underground Photography

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

Like many photographers who work in London I spend too much of my time underground, travelling around from place to place. Taking the Underground is usually the fastest way to get around London other than riding a bike as traffic congestion so often holds up buses and taxis (which are prohibitive unless you work in advertising or fashion.)

Taking my bike to London is possible, but adds complications like finding a safe place to lock it up (and nowhere in London is really safe from bicycle theives) and, particularly with marches where I may end up taking pictures a mile or more from where I started, having to walk back and find it. So usually I rely on buses when I’m not in any hurry or the tube when I am and the journey is too long to walk.

I decided to photograph on buses.

Back around 1990 I first saw the pictures taken on the Underground by Paul Baldesare, who became a friend and one I’ve shown work together with on numerous occasions. The first was a show at the Museum of London and as Paul already had some fine work on the tube, I decided to make a set of images for it of people on London’s buses. Paul’s early work was in black and white, but later he went on to photograph the tube in colour.

Another photographer who has photographed underground for a long period of time is Bob Mazzer, and you can find several features on his work on Spitalfields Life (there are links at the bottom of that page to the others.) His pictures are more varied than Baldesare’s and are the pictures of a regular daily traveller recording odd moments and unusual scenes.

Published now by Hoxton Mini Press. is a book of the work of photographer Mike Goldwater, London Underground 1970-1980, and you can see a fine selection of pictures on the BBC web site feature Candid moments on the London Underground.

And for a final mention, Stefan Rousseau, whose more recent pictures appeared in a Metro feature, Photographer secretly documents people’s sleepy commutes on London’s underground in April 2019.

Of course there are many other photographers who have photographed on the London Underground, including some well-known names, and several photographers I know whose projects I haven’t mentioned, along with the many thousands who have posted their phone images to Instagram and elsewhere. And of course there are other cities and underground networks. But the examples I’ve linked to are some that have particularly interested me and that I hope readers of this post will enjoy. Apologies to all those not mentioned!


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.


Stuart Heydinger dies

Monday, November 4th, 2019

A few days ago I wrote a post linking to Brian Harris’s blog post about an epic scoop by Stuart Heydinger, then photographing for The Times who apparently not only managed to stage a handshake between Vivian Fuchs and Edmund Hillary at the South Pole in 1958 but get his pictures back days before the other photographers present.

The post by Harris included extensive written comments from Heydinger, who Harris managed to find living in Germany, age 92.

On Saturday evening the Guardian online published a gallery of pictures, The photojournalism of Stuart Heydinger, edited by Greg Whitmore under the text :

The Observer’s chief photographer from 1960-66, has died aged 92. Here we look back at his outstanding photography that captured some of the key moments of 20th century history.

But perhaps the most interesting pictures in the set are not those of great events or famous men or women, but two of French men in Pyrénées-Atlantiques in the 1970s and a girl collecting water in Algeria. It’s also interesting that the set also includes an image of a lonely flooded pylon, one of a set of “eerily beautiful, quiet images which were never published” taken in 1960 during flooding around Lewes in East Sussex.

Along with the photographs is a page from Heydinger’s travel diary for May 1963- August 1964 detailing around 55 journeys by air, sea, rail and road, an exhausting schedule that took him around Europe, to the USA and Borneo as well as to Antartica and the Middle East.

Like others, I’ve long questioned the role of the heavyweight news photographers travelling internationally around the globe, jumping from country to country and story to story, often actually manufacturing rather than simply recording the news. And there are elements in his work that support those criticisms, not of him but of the industry which employed him. There is certainly no doubting that Heydinger was a heavyweight who took up that role and made and reported history.

Shot in Soho

Thursday, October 31st, 2019

It’s a while since I’ve been to the Photographers’ Gallery, which once used to be a regular place to call. I was a member for many years, probably more than 30, and used to attend most of the openings there, as well as dropping in occasionally when I was in town, perhaps to have a coffee, lock and the pictures and browse in the bookshop, as well as attend some of the lectures and workshops that took place there.

Back in the old days the gallery had an extensive library, mostly I think donated by photographers and run by volunteers, and it was a good place to visit and study books that were no longer available or too expensive to buy.

Back in the 1980s I was a member of a photographers group that had regular meetings there mainly looking at work that others had brought in, and some well-known photographers would drop in and show a portfolio and comment on our work. It was a part of the gallery’s education programme that that was needed for their charity status, but one that their education officer found hard to handle, and was very pleased to be able to drop in 1987.

I also worked at one time with a group set up to produce educational material there, getting some time release from the college where I was working. I’m not sure that we ever produced any material but it was interesting and fun to do.

There was a different atmosphere to the place in the old days. I used to go to the bookshop or café not just to look at books and drink coffee but for intelligent conversation about photography both with staff and other users. This just doesn’t seem to happen any more.

In those days the gallery was in Great Newport St, just a short walk from where I often find myself with some spare time in Trafalgar Square. Nowadays I tend to go into the National Gallery or the National Portrait Gallery instead. Since 2009 The Photographers’ Gallery is now a little further to go in Ramillies St, but mostly I gave up going because so many shows there held little interest for me.

I continued being a member for some years, even though I only went very occasionally until one year the cost of membership increased significantly for me and others of advanced years when they removed concessionary membership rates. Of course I could have afforded it, though I’m not rich, but the jump in cost made me think whether it was worth it.

What got me thinking about this was an on-line post on the British Journal of Photography web site. Again I was a BJP subscriber for many years, when it was a weekly trade journal and as well as publishing some well-written reviews of equipment and exhibitions had a useful listing of exhibitions. Then the BJP was an essential guide to what was happening in photography in the UK, but at some point it morphed into a monthly doing what other photo magazines already did, often better, and sometimes mainly featuring work which was of little interest to me. There seemed little point in continuing my subscription.

Of course it does still publish some interesting articles on good work, and the article I read on the web site by Marigold Warner, Anders Peterson on Soho, Cafe Lehmitz, and intention is a fine example. 18 images by Peterson are in the show ‘ Shot in Soho‘, along with work by William Klein and several others at the Photographers Gallery, London until 09 February 2019 (more pictures, some rather boring on the press release) and I will be finding time to go along and see the show, probably after 17.00 when entry is free. Usually the gallery closes at 18.00 but stays open until 20.00 on Thursdays.


South Pole and Back

Tuesday, October 29th, 2019

If you’ve not already done so, make sure you read Brian Harris’s post Stuart Heydinger-the South Pole and Back posted on his Brianharrisphotographer’s Blog a few days ago. It’s a post with interesting memories about legendary press photographers of the previous century, particularly Bill Warhurst, whose epic story about Stuart Heydinger is retold by Harris and the photographer. Heydinger’s photograph of a 1958 meeting between Dr Vivian Fuchs ( later to become Sir ) and Sir Edmund Hillary at the South Pole shows something of the initiative, planning, bravery and sometimes a little luck that went into what became a grand scoop, with Heydinger able to get his pictures of the meeting he had managed to set up back to The Times in London days or longer before other photographers present at the event.

In his research, Harris managed to track down Heydinger, now 92 and living in Germany and the article includes some lengthy comments written by him.

After recounting that story, Harris goes on to recount his own later experiences photographing on separate occasions both Hillary on Snowden on the 25th anniversary of the Everest climb, and making a much more formal portrait of Fuchs, both taken for The Times.

The piece is an interesting comment on the old adage about photojournalism, “f8 and be there”. Being in the right place at the right time sometimes takes and incredible amount of planning.


Brick Lane

Thursday, October 10th, 2019

I took one look when Paul Trevor began to speak at the launch of his new book Once Upon a Time in Brick Lane‘ last night, and decided against trying to take pictures in the dimly lit bar. Then a few seconds later I walked across to where I’d left my camera bag with friends and took out the Olympus OMD EM5II and thought “eff it, I might as well give it a try“.

I knew I’d set the camera earlier in the day on ISO AUTO, with a maximum ISO of 5000, but since I only had the 14-150mm f4-5.6 on the camera (28-300 equiv) it wasn’t really fast enough. Though since it was underexposing by a stop or two, the pictures were really taken at ISO10-20,000.

I’d been at the back of the room when the presentation began, and couldn’t easily get much closer, and there was a long table with drinks on it in my way. I’d put the camera on Shutter Priority, and set the shutter speed to 1/40th. The good news is that although I had to work at focal lengths between the equivalent of 60mm and 150mm, none of the images show any camera shake – the in-body stabilisation seems very effective.

The bad news is that with this lens autofocus is poor in such low light, with a lot of hunting at the longer focal lengths. Paul is a pretty mobile speaker – I think in part a nervous gesture as like many photographers he isn’t really happy speaking in public, and the camera could just not keep him in focus. I had to wait until it managed to focus and take a picture sharply before it lost sharpness again.

A second piece of bad news, I think evident even in these small pictures, is that the image quality is not great. I’m sure the Nikon D810 would have done rather better under these conditions. Working in normal daylight there isn’t a very noticeable difference.

But the Olympus scores on noise. I’ve not bothered to use the silent shutter mode (which comes with some problems) but the mechanical shutter is one of the quietest I’ve use, hardly noticeable in most situations. The D750 and D810 aren’t particularly noisy cameras, but the shutter sound does become noticeable in quiet locations.

If you’ve not already bought the book, I suggest you waste no time in doing so. As it states on the Hoxton Mini Press web site:

‘Paul Trevor, one of the great unsung heroes of British documentary photography, spent many years during the 70s and 80s capturing life on Brick Lane, London’s most iconic East End street. Published here for the very first time, these images, full of humour, grit, love and surprise, capture a vibrant time before the area went through dramatic social change.’

As I commented on the publication of Paul Trevor’s ‘Like you’ve never been away‘ a couple of years ago:

‘I’ve always regarded Paul Trevor as the most interesting of the whole batch of British photographers who became known in the mid 1970s at exactly the time I was myself coming to photography, and there were some other impressive talents, some of whom are very much better known. Some were rather better at self-publicity.’

It was a well-attended launch and it was good to meet a few old friends there, including some I don’t see too often, including of course Paul himself, but after his speech I didn’t stay long, but walked out into Brick Lane, fortified by a couple of glasses of red wine and still with my camera around my neck. It was a little brighter on the street, and as I walked down to Aldgate East underground I took a few pictures. Nothing of any significance but I think they give a good idea of how Brick Lane has changed since Paul Trevor made his pictures here. A few more will appear on My London Diary, probably in a month or so.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


A D Coleman on Frank

Monday, September 30th, 2019

Although A D Coleman wrote his “Robert Frank, a Retrospective: The Reluctant Reference Point” for his column in the New York Observer of December 4th 1995, it remains worth reading, and is included in his post Robert Frank (1924-2019): A Farewell on Photocritic International.

Among other things it includes a more sensitive and positive discussion of Frank’s later photographic work than I’ve given. I think I found it too annoying to give it proper consideration.

As well as Coleman’s thoughts, in the comments there is a link to an online version of the 1977 book ‘Photography Within the Humanities‘ where Frank’s April 1975 interview at Wellesley College was first published. The book is an interesting record of a series of talks when ten people connected with photography were each invited to the college on a different day to speak. Among the ten as well as Frank were John Morris, Paul Schuster Taylor the partner of Dorothea Lange, John Szarkowski, Gene Smith, Susan Sontag and Irving Penn.

Danny Lyon on Frank the man

Sunday, September 29th, 2019

” For all artists, there is a difference between the person and their work. “

Thus states Danny Lyon in the article ‘When Fathers Die: Remembering Robert Frank‘ on The New York Review of Books site. His piece is a very personal story of the man he lived with and worked with and who he says “brought integrity to an art riddled with compromise.”

I don’t think it makes me see any more – or less – in Frank’s pictures but I found it a fascinating read, a reminder of the very different times and lifestyle in which that work was produced.

East End Artists

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

I’m not a huge fan of portrait photography as it is generally practised and for example exhibited in the annual prize event at the National Portrait Gallery. Occasionally a decent picture creeps in, but most I find rather ordinary, occasionally worse.

Of course there are many photographic portraits I do admire. Bill Brandt took some truly splendid ones, mainly on magazine commission, and there are some good photographers now whose work appears regularly in newspapers and magazines.

Most of the pictures I take now have people in them, sometimes concentrating on an individual or small group, but usually because of what they are doing rather than to make some kind of statement about them as a person. Certainly I don’t think of myself as a portrait photographer though I think I have taken some pretty decent pictures of people.

I’ve mentioned the Spitalfields Life blog here before, and some time ago its author published EAST END VERNACULAR, Artists Who Painted London’s East End Streets in the 20th Century with work by many artists, many of whose work I knew as I’d worked in some of the same streets, and including a few I’ve met over the years. It is described as presenting “a magnificent selection of pictures – many never published before – revealing the evolution of painting in the East End and tracing the changing character of the streets through the twentieth century.”

Now an article on the same blog, Artists of East London Vernacular has some fine portraits of some of those featured by photographer Stuart Freedman who I’ve also mentioned here on several occasions. I think they are fine examples of photographic portraits, taken with great thought and care, a dozen quite different images. You can see more of his portraits on his web site, and I think some of these are among his best.

Robert Frank: The Americans

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019

The final part of my essay on Robert Frank, written 20 years ago and published on the web in 2000 looks at his iconic book ‘The Americans’ which changed photography after its publication in 1958/9.

The discussion of the pictures and their sequencing owes a great deal to other photographers, including two whose workshops I attended in the 1990s, Charles Harbutt and Leonard Freed and many others, but I think I added a little of my own. I’ve come across parts of it on various web sites since it was put on the web, and I’m told it was widely plagiarised in student essays, at least in the years following its publication.


The Americans

The Americans‘ was turned down by New York publishers, but Frank took it to Delpire in France. There, Robert Delpire only persuaded the company to publish in 1958 by threatening to leave the family firm if they didn’t. The French edition was not entirely successful as a book, including texts by a number of well-known writers which had the effect of making the photographs seem like illustrations rather than a coherent work in their own right. The following year it was published by the Grove Press in America, in a form that respected Frank’s vision and which has been followed with minor revisions in later editions. Sales were poor and the reviews were vituperative, but the book has been republished in many editions and has I think been continuously in print.

The Grove Press edition had an introduction by Jack Kerouac, who Frank had recently met: ‘That crazy feeling in America when the sun is hot on the streets and music comes out of the jukebox or from a nearby funeral, that’s what Robert Frank has captured in tremendous photographs taken as he traveled on the road around practically forty-eight states in an old used car (on Guggenheim Fellowship)…’ Kerouac continued for five pages, showing a clear knowledge of Frank’s work and an understanding of what he was trying to do, concluding with some short sentiments which have been often been quoted, among them ‘Anybody doesn’t like these pitchers dont like potry. See?’ and his description ‘Robert Frank, Swiss, unobtrusive, nice with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world.’

The work starts with a picture of the front of a building, an American flag draped across its front and two windows, in each a person. Both are apparently female, though both are obscured. Taken during a parade at Hoboken, the bottom edge of the flag visually cuts off the head of the figure at the right, preventing us and her from seeing. On the next page, the City Fathers line up, probably for the same event, on a stand behind a rail with a flag pinned to it. Soberly dressed old men, hats and coats against the cold, the man at the back stands with eyes closed, apparently totally elsewhere in his thoughts as his lips pucker into a kiss.

Next on a balcony in Chicago, a demagogue raises both fists, arms outstretched, above a very bored looking sculptured head in a frieze below. Cut to a car park in a field in South Carolina, black men attending a black funeral, heads titled, hands to cheeks, lost in thought probably during an address. One man clearly has his eye on Frank, wondering what this white stranger is doing. Next to a rodeo in Detroit, a white man in a cowboy hat, in profile, smoking a cigar, hand also up to his face, behind him two women apparently subservient; we turn the page and a uniformed man is dragging a woman on his arm (probably his wife, though it almost looks like an arrest) along the street in Savannah. The uniform leads us to the doorway of a Navy Recruiting office, though which we see the flag on the wall and the end of a desk with two feet resting on it.

Already we begin to see some of the ways Frank is building a story, using montage – the recurring element of the flag, the orator followed by the listeners. A couple of other motifs have also been presented – the car and the American Dream, but have yet to reappear. Frank concentrates on the ordinary, the things you see on the road and along its edges, but he also deals with real issues, whether of race, as in the pictures of the black nurse with the white doll-like baby in Charleston, South Carolina or the trolley in New Orleans with whites at the front and blacks at the back, or spiritual emptiness in the ‘Merry Christmas’ signs at the fast food Ranch Market in Hollywood or the plastic crosses, ‘Remember your loved ones’ on sale for 69 cents. A petrol station forecourt, the pumps like figures in a religious procession, carrying a tall banner that says S A V E in heavy capitals. It takes a second look to see the lightly written G A S in the gaps.

Perhaps the two most famous of the pictures using the flag are from a Fourth of July celebration in New York, where the giant hanging flag is shown to be patched, torn and threadbare, and a of a man playing a tuba at a political rally, rendered anonymous, the bell of the instrument replacing his head, and growing out from this a pole with the flag spreading out. These pictures are used to start the second and third loose sections of Frank’s book – the first also starting with the flag.

We think back to the rodeo picture when we come to another vision of the Wild West, a bar in Gallup, New Mexico, taken from a low viewpoint, perhaps even shot appropriately from the hip. The picture is at an angle and slightly blurred, half obscured by the looming back of a man close to the camera. Across the bar a man stands alone and desperate, hands perhaps just in pockets or on his hips, but giving the suggestion of a gunfight that is ready to start. Later we see an immaculately dressed cowboy on the streets of New York, seated not on a horse but on the edge of a litter bin.

Another of the motifs, or in this case perhaps more of an icon, is the jukebox. It glows weirdly like an alien visitation in a New York bar, leers obscenely among apparently drugged kids in a Candy store. An ornate model dominates a wooden shack bar in Beaufort, South Carolina, with bare tables and chairs and a small black baby escaping from his mattress on the floor.

At Long Beach, California, Frank came across a car covered with a white cocoon in front of a low plain building with two palm trees. Here the car is clearly an altar, the trees forming the columns and roof tracings of a church dedicated to the Holy Motor Spirit; next we have the site of a car accident; a blanket covering some bodies at the edge of Route 66, four people in a line looking at the and a row of buildings back form the road; next a road in New Mexico stretching into the distance, its centre line absolutely vertical.

A woman needs on the banks of the Mississippi at dusk, her white robes contrasting with her black face; kneeling she holds a white cross. The next picture is captioned ‘St Francis, gas station and City Hall – Los Angeles, and St Francis is silhouetted in the foreground holding up a cross. Next come three crosses marking the site of a highway accident, lit by a shaft of sun from a cloudy sky. We get an assembly line at a car factory, followed by a political assembly line at a Chicago convention, a fine row of urinals and a black man cleaning the shoes of a white businessman in a men’s room…

I’m conscious of how much I’m not pointing out in these pictures; this is a book every photographer or anyone who wants to be a photographer should own. All eighty three of them are worth close study, although they work together to produce something much greater than their sum. Despite the mauling it received on publication – it showed a personal view of America and one that was distant and uncongenial to comfortable middle-class America who were, by and large, both the major cultural producers and consumers – and poor sales at the time, it has become a classic. It marked a new vision in photography, a shift in the paradigm, and, as often happens it took some getting used to. To modern eyes it is difficult to see how critics could fail to see the good points in Frank’s work – the irony, the capturing of the essence of the small towns on the road, and even the humour of some of his work. Students of photographic history will certainly also be amused by his deliberate introduction of references to other photographers, with at least one carefully taken ‘decisive moment’ and a couple of pictures that are pure FSA.

Of course the clearest stylistic reference is, as Tod Papageorge pointed out, in his ground-breaking ‘Walker Evans and Robert Frank – An essay on influence‘ to the work of his mentor, Walker Evans. The debt is at its strongest to Evans’s own work with a 35mm camera, particularly to his pictures of people on the streets, where there are many pictures which could well have been taken by Evans. As Papageorge points out, various aspects of the design of ‘The Americans’, not least its title, also clearly derive from Evan’s masterpiece, ‘American Photographs’.

Later Work

After ‘The Americans’, Frank turned most of his attention to film, although continuing to take some still pictures, despite stating later that in 1960 he decided to put his camera ‘in a closet‘. His first film in 1979 was the only film which allowed the beats to present themselves on screen, ‘Pull My Daisy’, starring poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, artist Larry Rivers and musician David Amram. Kerouac contributed an act of his never completed play ‘The Beat Generation‘ as the screenplay and also appeared as a narrator. Better known is his controversial ‘Cocksucker Blues‘ about the Rolling Stones, though this was never commercially released, and probably more known about than actually viewed (there is a poor digital copy on YouTube.) Altogether he directed around twenty films, as well as acting in some, and being an editor and writer.

Frank’s photographic output was increasingly linked to the problems of his family, including the death of his daughter, Andrea, in a 1974 plane crash in Guatemala and his son Pablo’s mental illness. Increasingly his pictures were carefully constructed but also captioned with texts, often crudely scrawled or scratched on the images. There is a raw emotionalism and outpouring of grief that is sometimes hard to bear in such texts as ‘She was 21 years old and she lived in this house and I think of Andrea every day.

More recently he worked on a series of photographs of common tools and objects, referring back to the series produced by Walker Evans for ‘Fortune’ magazine when Frank was working as his assistant.


When I wrote this the only other widely available book of Frank’s photographs was The Lines of my Hand published in 1972 which included a range of his work but lacked the coherence of The Americans. In 2003 came London/Wales, and in 2008 a revised edition of The Americans with most images uncropped and some variants. In 2009 Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans, gave us scholarly essays with a great deal more information (and more pictures) about Frank and his work. From 2010 on Steidl published a series of half a dozen ‘Visual Diaries’ with photos from his early career together with the later more personal images. But despite all this, The Americans in its earlier editions stands out as the essential Robert Frank and the book that changed photography.

Frank continued (part 2)

Monday, September 16th, 2019

Here is the second of three parts of my longish essay about Robert Frank, certainly the greatest influence on other photographers including myself in the years that followed publication of his book ‘The Americans’ in 1958/9. The final and I think most interesting part, in which I take a look at that book in some detail will follow shortly.


New York and Travel

As soon as he possibly could, in 1947, Frank left Switzerland and moved to New York. Art director Alexey Brodovitch encouraged Frank to photograph for Harper’s Bazaar and other fashion magazines. Frank soon found fashion restricting and also contributed to “Life”, “Look”, “Fortune”, “McCall’s”, and “The New York Times”.

Frank also began to travel, coming back to Europe in 1951, where he photographed in mining villages in Wales and in London, as well as photographing in South America for a book including work by Swiss photographer Werner Bischof and the French photographer Pierre Verger who devoted more than half of his life to the study, promotion, and practice of Afro-Brazilian culture.

In Wales he took a powerful if slightly predictable close view of a miner coming back from the pit, blackened by coal. It is a powerful portrait, the cheery face beneath a cloth cap heightened by contrast with the broader out of focus miner in the left of the frame. His picture of children playing on the slag heap, and of a miner at home scrubbing himself in a zinc bath while his wife sits at the table reading the newspaper are vibrant reminders of vanished times, and were surely informed by pictures from the 1930s of similar scenes taken by Bill Brandt.

In London too he was drawn to the stereotype, but rendered it in a personal and interesting fashion; men in bowlers and top hats stroll through the fog of city streets, carrying umbrellas. There are also some odd moments and places – a dog in a foggy street, an angel peering over a wall, mothers (or nannies) struggling with giant wrapped babies and prams in the park, bombsites and hearses.

Back in New York in 1953, Frank began to work with Edward Steichen in selecting work for an exhibition on ‘Post-War European Photographers’ at the Museum of Modern Art, and later on ‘The Family of Man’, although as Frank says, he did not share the ‘Captain’s’ sentimental vision behind this. Frank took Steichen to visit the studio of Jacob Tuggener among other photographers, and his work was included in the exhibition.

American Influences

Meanwhile, Frank had discovered another of the elements that was to influence him greatly, Walker Evan’s seminal book ‘American Photographs‘. Again this was a carefully and subtly sequenced work, with picture linking visually to picture and recurring themes. Evans possibly drew his ideas about sequencing more from literary than film sources. Frank took his work to show Evans, who was impressed; it was Evans who was the major support behind Frank when he successfully applied for a Guggenheim Grant to make a journey across America taking photographs.

A further influence on Frank was also largely literary (although at that time derided by the literary establishment.) This was the ‘beat generation’ – writers and poets such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Kerouac had written ‘On the Road‘, his second book, using a single long roll of paper in his typewriter so he could let his stream of thought flow out through its keys to paper without interruption, without pausing to think or editing. The book is based around a series of four largely pointless journeys by Kerouac (Sal Paradise), driving across America with or to visit his friend ‘Dean Moriaty’, whose wild behaviour and unreliability are legendary.

Written in 1950, Kerouac’s publisher turned it down, and it did not appear until 1957. Frank was probably not familiar with the detailed text, but certainly was aware of the movement and had met some of the principals including Ginsberg in the early fifties before his own road trip around America, and in his attitudes and view of America he echoed those of the beats.

On the Road

Frank’s journeys across America were however rather less frenetic than Kerouac’s and fuelled more by his experiences than drugs. Much of the the time he was accompanied by his wife and son who both appear in the final image of the finished book. Throughout 1955/6 he crossed America, driving a second-hand car given him by Peggy Guggenheim, shooting around 500 rolls of film, photographing on the streets and in post offices, Woolworth stores, cafés, small hotels, bus stations.

He started work early in the mornings and usually continued all day. He seldom talked to people and usually tried not to be noticed while he was photographing, though his subjects in some pictures are clearly reacting to his camera – and not always positively. After his travels he edited the roughly 18,000 images down to the 83 which appear in his book, on average around one from every six films.

The journeys were not without problems, particularly when he was arrested and held in jail for 3 days in Little Rock, Arkansas. A police officer saw a Ford with New York plates being driven by a badly dressed and dishevelled Frank; he stopped the car and spoke to him and discovered not only did he have a strongly foreign accent, but saw that there were several cameras and other boxes and bags in the car. Clearly this was a spy, and that he had a piece of paper with something about Guggenheim on it (another foreign name) made circumstances even more suspicious.

So Frank was arrested and left in jail for around seven hours before being subjected to a series of interrogations for another four hours. This was at the height of the cold war and McCarthyism, and the police were totally unable to understand what Frank was trying to do. Why was anyone photographing America other than to supply information to a foreign power? Every possible point in his papers and his attempted explanations was fuel to their paranoia –the name Brodovitch – one of his Guggenheim sponsors – was clearly Russian, one of his children was called Pablo – a foreign name, he had marked routes on his maps and so on.

Fortunately Frank was able to persuade them not to have any of his films developed locally as they had threatened to. When they asked him if he knew anyone in politics or the police or similar, he told them he knew Steichen, and that his wife’s uncle was a close friend of Mayor Wagner of New York.

What concerned Frank most after he had been released was that his fingerprints had been taken and sent to the FBI; he was worried that this might prejudice his application for American citizenship.


The final piece of this essay, first published on the web in 2000, will appear shortly and looks at the content of ‘The Americans’ and then concludes with a very brief section on his later work.