There are two books that should be on every photographer’s bookshelf, and I think you can hardly call yourself a photographer unless you have a well-thumbed copy of both. Neither is a perfect work, but both are exemplary. One of them is Robert Frank‘s ‘The Americans‘, published first by Robert Delpire in Paris in 1958, and available in numerous editions since. That original edition would no set you back around £2,500, but you can buy more recent editions secondhand from around £25, less if you strike lucky. Most have been based on the first US Edition from 1959 published by Grove Press with it’s introduction by Jack Kerouac, but I would probably now recommend the Steidl 50th anniversary issue, which you can read more about on the 5×4 blog – and some of the comments there are also worth reading.
Kerouac was an important figure in my later teenage years, though only through his ‘On the Road‘ and other books, which together with Miles Davis dominated those times. I still remember the expression of distaste with which my Grammar School headmaster handed over the ‘Evergreen Original’ of Doctor Sax, with its inscription ‘Academic Year 1961/62 Awarded to P. G. Marshall for distinction in academic work‘. What a shame that then I didn’t then know about that other Grove Press volume by Frank, a copy of which now fetches around $4,500.
What brought these thoughts to mind was an article ‘The Man Who Saw America‘ by Nicholas Dawidoff published in the New York Times magazine on July 2, 2015 which for some reason was posted twice on my Facebook news feed this morning. He writes a little about the pictures, but mainly about the photographer and his life. I’ve no idea why the article has resurfaced now, but if you are coming new to ‘The Americans’ it isn’t a bad read. I think it should have said rather more about Frank’s first editor, Robert Delpire and his contribution to the work, and having to refer to Frank’s film of the Rolling Stones on tour as “[expletive] Blues,” seems odd. You can read about the film (which I find rather painful to watch for more than a few minutes – it’s available in parts on YouTube but part missing because of a copyright claim) and its significance in the the New Yorker.
The second book? Surely I don’t need to tell you.