My last post was about the photography of Elliott Erwitt. One of the photographs I posted was an intimate photograph of Robert Frank and his wife. This post is about Robert Frank's photography, and this is a quote by Elliot Erwitt on the photography of Robert Frank.
"Quality doesn't mean deep blacks and whatever tonal range. That's not quality, that's a kind of quality. The pictures of Robert Frank might strike someone as being sloppy - the tone range isn't right and things like that - but they're far superior to the pictures of Ansel Adams with regard to quality, because the quality of Ansel Adams, if I may say so, is essentially the quality of a postcard. But the quality of Robert Frank is a quality that has something to do with what he's doing, what his mind is. It's not balancing out the sky to the sand and so forth. It's got to do with intention."- Elliott Erwitt
This is my favorite photograph by Robert Frank. This image is from his seminal book, The Americans, and I feel it perfectly illustrates what Elliott Erwitt is referring to in this quote. What is usually written about this image is how it turns around the cliché of stargazing and, by doing so, comments on our obsession with celebrity, but I see something more in this image.
I love the multiple points of interest in this image. The starlet is blurred in the foreground and stares vacantly out of the frame. Her eyes are smudged black and look flat and lifeless. In focus in the background is a crowd of onlookers, and If you really look at where they are looking you will notice that none of them are actually looking at her. Maybe they were looking at her the moment before his shutter clicked, but they no longer are. They are now looking at something else that has caught their attention. Could there be something more important, more famous, more interesting, and/or more beautiful to look at now?
I don’t recognize her. She's not an A-list star. She’s styled like Marilyn Monroe, but she’s not quite Marilyn. Maybe at first glance, she looked like Marilyn Monroe and they realized she wasn’t her so they looked around to see if there was someone more important or beautiful around. I find this image incredibly sad. She looks lonely even though she’s in a crowd on display. Beauty and popularity are fleeting. Life and youth are evanescent, and Robert Frank's photographs are poetry.
Studying Robert Frank's work has made me a better photographer. I used to be so bogged down with absolute precision and perfection. The "imperfections" in his images make them visceral and psychological. To me, that is what was missing from my work. Robert Frank's images gave me permission to be "imperfect" for the sake of the image. I think Jack Kerouak said it best in his forward to The Americans,
"Anybody doesn’t like these pitchers don’t like poetry, see? Anybody don’t like poetry go home see television shots of big hatted cowboys being tolerated by kind horses. Robert Frank, Swiss, unobtrusive, nice, with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the poets of the world. To Robert Frank I now give this message: You got eyes."- Jack Kerouac