RIP Robert Frank, November 9, 1924 – September 9, 2019
I always think about the things we leave behind. Our legacy, the important things, the not-so-important things, and how they affect the people around us. I have always thought that a record, some kind of archive, is important for the future to learn from--our successes and failures and everything in between. This is a big reason why a physical archive and printed media is so important to me, and one of the reasons I believe Robert Frank's work was important.
Not only did he offer an insightful outsider's view of things we find both familiar and unfamiliar, but he had a huge archive from which he could pull and reference. He also dispelled a myth that I believed for a very long time: that a photographer has an almost preternatural gift to capture the "decisive moment." That a photographer can happen upon a scene, frame it up in their viewfinder, make the photo and walk away with a masterpiece. This is absolutely untrue. Robert Frank shot over 27,000 frames for The Americans. TWENTY SEVEN THOUSAND. The final book was an edit of just over 80 photographs. Yes, he was thoughtful and methodical in the way he worked, and yes he had a vision, but he also worked the scene and shot for the edit.
I was lucky enough to see publisher Gerhard Steidl speak at UC Berkeley in 2017 about the importance of print, where dozens Frank's contact sheets were on display. He would shoot a scene at numerous angles, sometimes working a scene with an entire roll of film and sometimes more.