Fire in the East

A nice post on American Suburb X has Fire in the East: A Portrait of Robert Frank, a 1986 film for the Museum of Fine Harts, Houston and KUHT Public Television, written, directed and edited by Amy and Philip Brookma, who aslo narrates the film, and produced by by Anne Wilkes Tucker and Paul Yeager.

It has some nice footage of Frank himself talking, as well as the views of a number of photographers, including Louis Faurer, whose darkroom Frank shared when he first went to New York in the late 1940s, as well as Sid Kaplan, Elliot Erwitt, Duane Michals and others who knew him then or when he returned to America after travels around the world in 1953, shortly after to embark on the Guggenheim-funded road trip that resulted in a book that many see as something of a watershed in photography. John Szarkowski has a few words too.  And many of Frank’s finest images appear, if sometimes rather in the background.

It was in some way a visual counterpart to Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, the bible for a new generation. I put down my guitar, stopped singing Buddy Holly badly and entered a new world at least in my mind. If I’d heard that Kerouac had written the introduction to a book of photographs I’d probably have bought it, but it was only around 15 years later that I first saw a copy of ‘The Americans’, thanks to the guys at Creative Camera.

Fire in the East deals with his whole career up to 1986, and the second half of it I found a little less interesting than the first. At about the time I discovered Kerouac, Frank abandoned still photography and moved into film with the  1959 ‘Pull My Daisy‘ with improvised performances by poets Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky  and Gregory Corso and opthers playing themselves to a script by Jack Kerouac, along with other artist friends and Frank’s young son Pablo.

Grove Press (the first US publisher of ‘The Americans’) also brought out  ‘Pull My Daisy’ as a book, and this was republished a few years ago by Steidl.  There is an interesting article about it by John Cohen, who photographed the entire production in photo-eye magazine. A few of his pictures were used, along with stills from the 16mm black and white film.

All photographers will of course already own a copy of ‘The Americans’, but if not, various editions are available second-hand at prices from around £20 to £9,000. Should you not have it you could put it on your Christmas list and cross your fingers as to which to get, though if you are buying it yourself I’d recommend the 1978 Aperture edition which you can probably find at a reasonable price. I think my copy of ‘On the Road’ cost me 1/6d, and you can pick it up  for less than a quid if you are lucky at a second-hand book shop, which allowing for inflation is rather cheaper. For free you can see some great drawings by Paul Rogers in his ‘On The Road, Illustrated’ ,  an image for every single page in the book, though not all on line yet.

One Response to “Fire in the East”

  1. […] another of Frank’s films, Pull My Daisy, as well as more that may be of interest to fans (like me) of Jack Kerouac, who of course wrote the fine introduction to the US publication of ‘The […]

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