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Old republic

THE 83 black-and-white photographs in Robert Frank’s “The Americans” (Steidl: 180 pp., $39.95) are bound by an intense sense of loneliness, whether they evoke a New York City cocktail party, a St. Petersburg, Fla., bus bench or a funeral in St. Helena, S.C. Originally published in 1958, the book -- which has just been reissued in a 50th anniversary edition -- focuses on people in the middle of their lives, lost, trying to come to some sort of reckoning.

Frank’s genius was to see America unfiltered, much like Walker Evans (whose “American Photographs” is an obvious precursor to “The Americans”) and Dorothea Lange. There are no tricks here, no posing or false glory, just a sense of desolation, "[t]hat crazy feeling in America,” as Jack Kerouac writes in his introduction, “when the sun is hot on the streets and the music comes out of the jukebox or from a nearby funeral.”

What’s most remarkable is Frank’s timing, the way he caught the republic at exactly the moment it was becoming the country in which we live today. In these pages, we can see it -- the postwar world yielding to something else entirely, as clear as the teenagers making out in a public park in Ann Arbor, Mich., or the newlyweds embracing, full of lust and desperation, in the lobby of Reno city hall.

-- David L. Ulin

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david.ulin@latimes.com


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