Famous Frank. The 4th of July. Old Glory. Edward Weston was the one who got me interested. Robert Frank was the one made me go. Crazy different influences. Today the New York Times has a feature on Frank.
Sixty years ago, at the height of his powers, Frank left New York in a secondhand Ford and began the epic yearlong road trip that would become ‘‘The Americans,’’ a photographic survey of the inner life of the country that Peter Schjeldahl, art critic at The New Yorker, considers ‘‘one of the basic American masterpieces of any medium.
I drove down Highway 1 yesterday for a brief stretch, a section full of old motels and buildings that are much as they were fifty years ago. Even an original Dairy Queen still stands. "I want to just take a week to travel along here and talk to people and take pictures," I said to my friend. Saying it out loud made it sound silly, I think. I could feel the hanging question: Why? Why on earth would someone spend his time doing that? "There is a story here," I answered the unspoken question. "A million stories, a million narratives, and someone has to give the evidence of the fact at least that they exist."
Frank hoped to express the emotional rhythms of the United States, to portray underlying realities and misgivings — how it felt to be wealthy, to be poor, to be in love, to be alone, to be young or old, to be black or white, to live along a country road or to walk a crowded sidewalk, to be overworked or sleeping in parks, to be a swaggering Southern couple or to be young and gay in New York, to be politicking or at prayer.
Of course, there is the other thing, too. It is disruptive, dissident.
‘‘My mother asked me, ‘Why do you always take pictures of poor people?’ It wasn’t true, but my sympathies were with people who struggled. There was also my mistrust of people who made the rules.’’
It is a familiar question, a familiar answer. It is the 4th. I want to make pictures but probably won't. It is the difference.