SF MOMA has a wonderful traveling exhibit of Robert Frank’s photographs from his seminal book The Americans. Frank shot these photos in the mid-50’s with a starkness that lays bare our culture. The exhibit is titled Looking In, so appropriate for a photographer who made visible underrepresented people and moments.
In a November, 1951, interview in LIFE magazine, Frank said, “When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.” That’s in fact exactly how I felt as I stared at the African-American couple sitting so upright on their motorcycle, the parade watchers in Hoboken whose faces are obscured by a window shade and an American flag, the gas pumps in the middle of a desolate landscape, sitting under an incongruous SAVE sign.
I especially loved seeing the hand-written correspondence from Frank detailing his arrest as he traveled through Alabama shooting for the book and the discrimination he faced there as a Jew. There is also Kerouac’s typed introduction to the book, complete with misspellings.
I was enthralled by this exhibit, enthralled by the apparent connections between Frank’s work and that of the great early 20th century documentary photographers.
And yet …
In all the photos, not one was of an Asian-American. On one hand I have no problem with that. This was Frank’s vision of America, beautifully realized. He makes many points, and they are all indeed poetic.
On the other hand, on the other hand … I can’t help but feel like Asians are slighted once again. It’s irrational, I realize, because I know many, if not most, groups go unrepresented in Frank’s collection.
So I propose a new book be made, called The -Americans. It will be a homage to Frank, shot in the places where he shot across this country, but this time employing a more current sensiblity of invisible in America. What do you say, Guggenheim, will you fund me?
If you’re in the Bay Area, see Looking In. At SF MOMA until August 23.