Robert Frank on Shooting His Seminal Photo Book, ‘The Americans’

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art shared this 3.5-minute video in which renowned American photographer Robert Frank talks about how he shot his seminal 1958 photo book, The Americans. Reflecting on various photos from the project, Frank shares insights into the process behind the shots.

Here’s the book’s description on Amazon:

First published in France in 1958, then in the United States in 1959, Robert Frank’s The Americans changed the course of twentieth-century photography. In 83 photographs, Frank looked beneath the surface of American life to reveal a people plagued by racism, ill-served by their politicians and rendered numb by a rapidly expanding culture of consumption. Yet he also found novel areas of beauty in simple, overlooked corners of American life. And it was not just Frank’s subject matter–cars, jukeboxes and even the road itself―that redefined the icons of America; it was also his seemingly intuitive, immediate, off-kilter style, as well as his method of brilliantly linking his photographs together thematically, conceptually, formally and linguistically, that made The Americans so innovative. More of an ode or a poem than a literal document, the book is as powerful and provocative today as it was 56 years ago.

“You have to be quick as a photographer, not to be noticed too much,” says Frank, who’s now 94 years old. “You have to have your camera with you all the time ready to shoot.”

After receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1955, Frank traveled all across the United States and pointed his lens at all facets of society. After two years of roaming through cities and capturing roughly 28,000 photos, Frank selected 83 of them for his photo book.

The Americans is now widely considered one of the most influential in the history of photography.

“[I]t changed the nature of photography, what it could say and how it could say it,” The Guardian wrote. “[I]t remains perhaps the most influential photography book of the 20th century.”

“Few books in the history of photography have had as powerful an impact as ‘The Americans,’ by Robert Frank,” says The New York Times. “Mr. Frank’s somber view of life in the 1950s has shaped the vision of countless younger photographers with its demonstration of the poetic possibilities of the medium.”

(via SF MOMA via ISO 1200)