Editor’s note: We re-publish this book review from 2008 in memory of Robert Frank, who just died at age 94 on September 9, 2019.
This is the photo book that redefined what a photo book could be — personal, poetic, real. Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, Robert Frank’s masterpiece still holds up — the selection of photos, and their sequence and pacing is fresh, rich, generous, and stunning.
And the new 2008 edition published by Steidl offers perhaps the best printing yet, with all new tri-tone scans of the original prints, printed on top quality paper. Robert Frank himself supervised every aspect of this new edition, including approving every page that rolled off the presses. He even re-cropped many of the photos, usually including more of the image than before.
Jack Kerouac, the famed Beat Generation poet and novelist wrote the introduction to the first American edition, which came out in 1959, a year after the book was first published in France by Robert Delpire. Kerouac’s text is a perfect complement to the photographs. It has a 1950’s jazz rhythm to it, and wide-eyed innocence and sadness.
Kerouac said, “Robert Frank…he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world.”
Contemporary artist and photographer Ed Ruscha said:
“Seeing THE AMERICANS in a college bookshop was a stunning, ground-trembling experience for me. But I realized this man’s achievement could not be mined or imitated in any way, because he had already done it, sewn it up and gone home. What I was left with was the vapors of his talent. I had to make my own kind of art. But wow! THE AMERICANS!”
I love the range of images Frank captured in the two years he took to make this book. He seems to have experienced the quintessential America of the mid 1950s. When you read the photos in this book, he takes you on a wild cross-country ride.
— Jim Casper
By Robert Frank
Introduction by Jack Kerouac
180 pages, 83 tritone plates
20.9 cm x 18.4 cm
Hardcover with a dust jacket
Steidl / National Gallery of Art
Publication date: May 2008