Trolley – New Orleans

On the New York Times web site you can see an extended interpretation of the image used on the cover of what is probably the most iconic of all photographic books, Robert Frank‘s ‘The Americans‘, published in the USA in 1959, A Portrait of America That Still Haunts, Decades Later, by Arthur Lubow.

On the first publication in France in 1958, publisher Robert Delpire had insisted on using drawings on the cover by Saul Steinberg, as well as including published texts about America by well-known authors on all the left-hand pages, which Frank had wanted left blank. So far as I’m aware, all published versions of the book (with the exception of the 50th anniversary  Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans which contains a huge amount of extra related material ) have followed Frank’s wishes with the pictures facing largely blank left pages (with just page numbers and brief caption) and used his picture of choice, Trolley, New Orleans 1955, on the cover.

Lubow’s close reading of the image is something rather unusual in photographic writing, where too often those who write criticism appear to have done almost anything to avoid actually looking at the pictures. We may find other references than some of those he finds – our responses like his are to some degree individual, dependent on our own experience and knowledge – and sometimes may feel he is stretching a point, but it is a powerful and useful reading.


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