Friday, April 17, 2009

Arty Farty Friday ~ Robert Frank ~ Capturing Real Life

A look at another photographer this week: Robert Frank. His work is classed as "street photography". He's most famous for the photographs in his two books "The Americans", and "The Lines On My Hand".
(Portrait of Robert Frank, left, in his house in Nova Scotia1969-1971 by Walker Evans)

Born in Switzerland, he spent much of his adult life in America. He came to realise that the reality of America was (and is) far different from the myth, The American Dream. Nowadays this is more widely appreciated, though less well known in the 1950s when Mr Franks was wielding his camera throughout the states, depicting a vastly different story from that offered in some of Norman Rockwell's lovely illustrations. America had, and still has, two sides.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Robert Franks seminal photo book The Americans, the National Gallery of Art organized a comprehensive exhibit of his work. Read more at

An unconsoling portrait of his adopted country, the 83 photographs in the book are a record of the Swiss-born Frank's on-the-road travels in 1955 and 1956. It is a country of empty highways and drained faces in barrooms, divided by race and income. Frank's people seem bereft, beaten. It's a portrait by an outsider identifying to his fingertips with other outsiders.

The pictures rewrote the rules of photography, and a comfortable living. Their blurry casualness and tilted frames jazzed nearly every photographer of note to come along in the 60's. Visual motifs hold "The Americans" together -- jukeboxes, crucifixes, cars, televisions -- and the Stars and Stripes flutters throughout the pages like a tattered ghost. The book galvanized successive waves of artists, and not just photographers. Tune in to any beautifully bleak, high-grain, low-definition MTV video and you're probably watching refracted Robert Frank.
(From NYT Magazine)

Frank's photographs from Wales, England and elsewhere appear in his second book. His sharp insight, cuttingly critical at times, but with innate compassion and an artist's eye, provides much to enlighten future generations.

Born 9 November 1924 in Zurich, Switzerland. Time of birth unknown, 12 noon chart below.

It's a Watery chart, with Grand Trine linking and blending the Scorpio, Pisces and Cancer planets.
Here is incisive insight from Scorpio, compassion, sensitivity and artistic imagination from Cancer and Pisces. He has Fire energy too, sufficient to propel him to the success he achieved - this is reflected by his Aries Moon (whatever his time of birth), Jupiter in Sagittarius ( strong its own sign) and generational Neptune in Leo. Depending on time of birth the Fire planets could form a second Grand Trine.

The characteristics of his older years, described in the extract from Vanity Fair, below, stem from that Scorpio cluster, and possibly from his unknown ascending sign.

Frank Roberts is 84 now. From Vanity Fair (here)
"He has reached that age when a man does not have to apologize for his cruelties, his eccentricities, or his grooming habits. His prints have sold for more than a half-million dollars, but he shambles around looking like a Bowery bum. He has by turns been described by people who do not know him as ornery, reclusive, hard, manipulative to the point of destructive, and cold as a bowling ball. He rarely gives interviews. He speaks in short, elliptical snatches and views life with the detached outlook of an undertaker. He came to China to have a look before he dies. “To travel the road of possibilities,” he said. “Turn on a whole new audience.” "

"As he traveled around the country in 1955–56 making the photographs that would constitute his landmark book, The Americans, Frank's impression of America changed radically. He found less of the freedom and tolerance imagined by postwar Europeans, and more alienation and racial prejudice simmering beneath the happy surface. His disillusionment is poignantly embodied in this image of a disheveled African-American man disengaged from the crowd and asleep in a fetal position amid the debris of an Independence Day celebration on Coney Island."

This was one of the last still photographs Frank made before he devoted his creative energy to filmmaking in the early 1960s. As such, it may be interpreted as an elegy to still photography; the lone figure functions as a surrogate for Frank himself, as he turned his back on Life-like photojournalism to concentrate on the more personal, dreamlike imagery of his films."

"It's not the pretty or the sweet life, but the real life I looked for and got."(Robert Frank).


Mark espace said...

.I think your blog is lovely. I may have sent you a comment on your Lange post, can't remember.

Interesting that Frank and Evans are both Scorpio. They are so similar, in their spare-boned realism, yet neither of them uses much distinctly Scorpionic subject matter, like for instance Scorpio Helmut Newton. I'm thinking in terms of my own project, which is to illustrate the sign symbols thru the artist's work. So for Frank I would choose the Funeral shot, the cowboy (did you know that Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were both Scorps!?), and juxtapose maybe something as spare and semiological as the neon arrow with a piece of Magritte like Ceci n'est pas une pipe.

Wisewebwoman said...

Fabulous post, T. You hit on one of my favourite interests, photography of reality rather than myth. I am reminded of another American who did a whole series on the underbelly of New York and his name escapes me.
Frank is iconic.

Twilight said...

Mark - Hi again! I tend to forget you are GEMINI blog, until I click on your name. Loved your Red Aries series - very creative!

I hadn't checked photographer Evans b/date, but yes, it IS interesting. The Scorpio I see is mainly the very sharp, cold insight these guys have - it's probably superficial though because under it all there has to be understanding and compassion in choice of subject.

That's a good idea you have about sign symbols - yes that funeral shot is a good choice. Magritte, too is always a good choice - love his paintings!

No, I'd never have guessed about Rogers and D. Evans. :-)

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~ Ta! Maybe you are thinking of the photographer who took the portrait at the top of the post -Walker Evans?
Wiki says about him:

In 1938, Evans also took his first photographs in the New York subway with a camera hidden in his coat. These would be collected in book form in 1966 under the title 'Many are Called'

Anonymous said...

The photographer who photographed the New York "underbelly" was WEEGEE, real name Arthur Felig.

Wisewebwoman said...

Yes: Anon, thank you, it was Weegee.

R Phoenix said...

The geometry of Frank's chart is pretty stunning. Nicely done Twilight.

Twilight said...

Anonymous ~~~ Many thanks for that!
Had a lok at his Wiki page - he's now on my list of "to do"

Twilight said...

Robert P. ~~~ Yes, very triney! Odd that he's turned out to be so ornery!

anthonynorth said...

Some important photography there. I'll have to find out more about this guy.

Twilight said...

AN ~~~ He's an interesting chap, for sure! :-)

Ron Southern said...

I have a lot of things to catch up on (you're not the only one), but maybe we'll talk someday, if we last.

Twilight said...

Ron ~~~ Hey! Nice to "see" ya!
You mean Twitter-wise, perhaps?
You know, I can't get the hang of that at all, so far. I'll swing by your blog in a bit though, once I get my blogging feet back after a week away from it. :-)

Poet_Girl said...

Twilight, you keep coming up with great artists on this blog. Thanks so much for that, and the astro insights.

I can't remember where I read it, but someone once observed that Scorpios make great photographers. In my personal life I have seen this to be true; maybe it's that 'eagle eye' they have for detail and seeing through the superficiality of things, to the heart of an image.

Robert Frank sounds fascinating. I will try to track down more of his work....

Twilight said...

Poet Girl ~~ Hi!

I'm pleased these pieces are of interest. I'm finding photographers to be a source of fascination just now. And yes, I think someone with plenty of Scorpio in their makeup does have the right "eye" for certain kinds of photography.

There'll be another one coming up on Friday, I think, if I get my act together! :-)

Anonymous said...

Robert Franks is awesome. So is Sally Mann... don't think you realized this, but you posted a Sally Mann photograph on this blog about Robert Frank. The girl with the cigarette.

Twilight said...

Anonymous ~~~~ OOOPs!! Many thanks for pointing that out. I'm always worried about doing something stooopid like this!

I'll remove it now.

Sally Mann might be a good subject for a future post though - so thanks again.