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Photogs / Photo Exhibits This is the place to discuss a particular Photographer (work, style, life, whatever), as well as to post Gallery and Museum Photo Exhibitions and your own impressions of them. As we march on in this new digital world, it is often too easy to forget about the visual importance of the photographic print, as well as their financial importance to the photographer. It is also interesting to remember that some guy named Gene Smith shot with lenses that many lens test reading "never had a picture published in their life" amateurs would turn up their their noses at, as being "unacceptable."

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Old 06-04-2009   #41
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"All of that is to say, trying to "convince" someone else of the greatness of a work of art as you are insisting we do (the implication being that if we cannot then you are correct in your assessment of Frank and we are mistaken) is pointless: no reasoned argument will suffice to give someone else a moving experience of the art in question. Such arguments can only be hollow because they remain outside the experience, at best they merely look back on it or point to it."

Kevin,
Then why did you blather on so long about it? The very fact that you did goes to show the fallacy of your own position.

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Old 06-04-2009   #42
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Not at all, nothing I said was trying to defend Frank's greatness in the sense of convincing you that you SHOULD experience it as such, only trying to show that art is always relative. And that any search for an "objective" evaluation of it is bound to remain completely unconvincing for one who is unmoved. I wasn't trying to show that Frank is great, but instead show that your call that we convince you was unreasonable and bound to fail. You completely misunderstand the implications of my post.

I would be astounded if your own experience did not demonstrate that art is experienced in a relative way. Have you never seen a work of art and been moved and then seen it later and wondered what was so great about it? Or vice versa, been unmoved and then seen it again and been moved? Has the art changed? Of course not, but you have and your experience of it has. Logical arguments are of little use to make us feel something.

In any case, you're just playing a rhetorical game and avoiding both the spirit and logic of my post.

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"All of that is to say, trying to "convince" someone else of the greatness of a work of art as you are insisting we do (the implication being that if we cannot then you are correct in your assessment of Frank and we are mistaken) is pointless: no reasoned argument will suffice to give someone else a moving experience of the art in question. Such arguments can only be hollow because they remain outside the experience, at best they merely look back on it or point to it."

Kevin,
Then why did you blather on so long about it? The very fact that you did goes to show the fallacy of your own position.

/T
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Last edited by Papercut : 06-04-2009 at 10:20.
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Old 06-04-2009   #43
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Old 06-04-2009   #44
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There is one big thing about Franks book, 'The Americans', and that is that it was a breakthrough in documentary photography. The images are the sincere interpretations of a young man entranced by the U.S. The response to Franks book was so negative in the beginning, that no American publisher would touch his work, saying that his depiction of america was 'unpatriotic'. The same was once said of William Kleins work, of NYC, but luckily, there was someone out there who said 'Publish and be damned'.
Franks work freed up the photographer, showing how you don't have to be rigid or a slave to the doctrines of H-C-B, exposure, focus aim, are all notes on a page. Who cares in what order they are played, it is the feeling that the end result evokes.
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Old 06-04-2009   #45
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"In any case, you're just playing a rhetorical game and avoiding both the spirit and logic of my post."

On the contrary. I am a great believer in art criticism and the value of the informed critic to help us appreciate the things we don't initially feel affinities with or show us how an initial like may be shallow. Despite your own avowed relativism, you believe the same, otherwise why bother to write so much? You should just say, "All reaction to art is subjective. I like it; you don't. The end." Understanding something can change our feelings for it. It's not just about feelings. Having said this, I went off and read some of the overviews of Frank's work. I get it. It still leaves me cold.

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Old 06-04-2009   #46
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Al Kaplan View Post

The photo of the naked little Vietnamese girl running towards the camera engulfed in flaming napalm might well have been the turning point of public opinion about a pointless conflict. Great art? Hell no!

The photo of a pistol pressed up against a prisoner's head, I forget who or which war, while blood and brains fly out the other side. Good timing but not great art.
Well, that's just the point, and those were just the photos I was thinking of that explain why Frank's work leaves me cold. Those are great photographs, that's pretty much all you can ask of a photograph. And certainly memorable. Describe a single photo in The American's where someone will recognize it immediately, just from the description. (Well, maybe there is one like that.) I can appreciate that the work was groundbreaking, IN ITS TIME; that it exposed things about America that America didn't want to see, IN ITS TIME. So, IN ITS TIME, it had a great affect. I think not any longer, except perhaps in a historical kind of way. But the photos of that burned little girl, of the executed Viet Cong, those still have the power to move and shock us, even in our time. That's why I would say they are great PHOTOS, but Frank's are not.

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Old 06-04-2009   #47
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I don't understand why you misconstrue my long post yet again: I did not say or imply that art criticism is pointless or valueless. Like you, I too believe that it can help us understand (and thus intellectually grasp or "appreciate") art. And at times, it may possibly inspire a new experience, but it cannot stand in for it; intellectual or reasonable arguments cannot substitute for, nor reliably invoke, the experience of art for someone who is unmoved by the art in the first place. In this sense, art is undeniably "relative".

My long post wasn't to denigrate your opinion, nor to argue for Frank's greatness; it was to point out that your demand that we "convince" you of the greatness is misguided. If the work leaves you cold and people's attempt to show you why it moves them does not inspire a new experience, then that is that. No logical argument can substitute for the feeling. The feeling is inescapably relative/subjective: either you feel it or you don't.

Your following post, in response to Al, seems to take your own subjective evaluation and write it large to everyone ("our time"). Why? On what basis? Just as because you don't find anything meaningful or moving in Frank's book doesn't undermine my experience of it as moving , nor it's objective status as "great art" (i.e., treated as such by art institutions). Likewise, my (individual) response to the book does not make it great. For the record, I find it moving and powerful TODAY, not just as a historical record or "for its time". So, which of our assessments is "correct"?

This is where we seem to part company: the objective assessment of it as "great art" is not done by individual's opinions of it, but by the institutions and organizations in the arena of the "art world". This fact, that the group of institutions that perform these functions in our society treat Robert Frank's book as an important work of art, is an established and objective fact and one that is not altered by any individual's subjective response to the book.

In short, subjectively, art is relative (we all determine what is "great art" for ourselves); objectively, great art is great because the art institutions in our society see "value" (of some sort) in it and treat it as great / valuable. What exactly that "value" is, of course, is precisely what aestheticians, philosophers of art, culture critics, and academic Marxists argue about endlessly. But the attempt to make the subjective and objective align perfectly is almost certain to be an exercise in frustration.


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Originally Posted by Tuolumne View Post
"In any case, you're just playing a rhetorical game and avoiding both the spirit and logic of my post."

On the contrary. I am a great believer in art criticism and the value of the informed critic to help us appreciate the things we don't initially feel affinities with or show us how an initial like may be shallow. Despite your own avowed relativism, you believe the same, otherwise why bother to write so much? You should just say, "All reaction to art is subjective. I like it; you don't. The end." Understanding something can change our feelings for it. It's not just about feelings. Having said this, I went off and read some of the overviews of Frank's work. I get it. It still leaves me cold.

/T
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Last edited by Papercut : 06-04-2009 at 11:26.
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Old 06-04-2009   #48
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you gonna teach it, fred? I'd sign up for it if you are -- would be fun and interesting
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Old 06-04-2009   #49
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I think that the biggest mistake that a lot of photographers make is trying to create "art" with their photography. The ones who succeed aren't trying.

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Old 06-04-2009   #50
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tuolumne View Post
Describe a single photo in The American's where someone will recognize it immediately, just from the description. (Well, maybe there is one like that.) I can appreciate that the work was groundbreaking, IN ITS TIME; that it exposed things about America that America didn't want to see, IN ITS TIME. So, IN ITS TIME, it had a great affect. I think not any longer, except perhaps in a historical kind of way. But the photos of that burned little girl, of the executed Viet Cong, those still have the power to move and shock us, even in our time. That's why I would say they are great PHOTOS, but Frank's are not.

/T
Are memorability and pop culture saturation the litmus of art? If so, the greatest works of art of our time are videos of people getting hurt on youtube.

And Jerry Maguire is the best, most artful movie of the last 20 years because it contains the most famous catch-phrases.

Also, the photos from the Vietnam War are extremely dependent on social and historical context. Let's say the Nazis documented a murder they carried out - would their photo of an execution of a prisoner, composed precisely the same as the photo of the execution of the Viet Cong prisoner, be great art?

If Robert Frank's work tweaked the collective conscious it seems reductive to measure The Americans picture by picture, rather than as a whole story. Maybe it would help to think of his work as a long, provocative sentence composed of uncomplicated words, beautifully arranged.
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Old 06-04-2009   #51
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cirque,

great link! bookmarked for sure!

as a trip to Norway, you may regret your invitation -- you do not know how far I am prepared to go for free beer! ;-)

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Papercut/Kevin: If you ever find yourself in Norway, give me a call - the beer is on me.

And to keep this somewhat on topic;
http://jnocook.net/frank/rfcolor1.htm
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Old 06-04-2009   #52
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Quote:
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I don't understand why you misconstrue my long post yet again: I did not say or imply that art criticism is pointless or valueless. Like you, I too believe that it can help us understand (and thus intellectually grasp or "appreciate") art. And at times, it may possibly inspire a new experience, but it cannot stand in for it; intellectual or reasonable arguments cannot substitute for, nor reliably invoke, the experience of art for someone who is unmoved by the art in the first place. In this sense, art is undeniably "relative".

My long post wasn't to denigrate your opinion, nor to argue for Frank's greatness; it was to point out that your demand that we "convince" you of the greatness is misguided. If the work leaves you cold and people's attempt to show you why it moves them does not inspire a new experience, then that is that. No logical argument can substitute for the feeling. The feeling is inescapably relative/subjective: either you feel it or you don't.

Your following post, in response to Al, seems to take your own subjective evaluation and write it large to everyone ("our time"). Why? On what basis? Just as because you don't find anything meaningful or moving in Frank's book doesn't undermine my experience of it as moving , nor it's objective status as "great art" (i.e., treated as such by art institutions). Likewise, my (individual) response to the book does not make it great. For the record, I find it moving and powerful TODAY, not just as a historical record or "for its time". So, which of our assessments is "correct"?

This is where we seem to part company: the objective assessment of it as "great art" is not done by individual's opinions of it, but by the institutions and organizations in the arena of the "art world". This fact, that the group of institutions that perform these functions in our society treat Robert Frank's book as an important work of art, is an established and objective fact and one that is not altered by any individual's subjective response to the book.

In short, subjectively, art is relative (we all determine what is "great art" for ourselves); objectively, great art is great because the art institutions in our society see "value" (of some sort) in it and treat it as great / valuable. What exactly that "value" is, of course, is precisely what aestheticians, philosophers of art, culture critics, and academic Marxists argue about endlessly. But the attempt to make the subjective and objective align perfectly is almost certain to be an exercise in frustration.
Could you boil this down to a tweet?

/T
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Old 06-04-2009   #53
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Old 06-04-2009   #54
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I didn't use any big words or obfuscate things. Sometimes it takes a couple paragraphs to express a coherent point -- not every idea can be boiled down to one or two sentences. The internet is not always the best medium for expressing such things, but I feel no compunction to distill my idea or words any further.

Read them and think about them yourself. If you are not willing to do so it means that you are either too lazy to do so or are engaging in debate in bad faith (i.e., without really listening to or trying to understand the other party); either way, I don't feel like I have to indulge you.

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Could you boil this down to a tweet?

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Old 06-04-2009   #55
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I disagree about having to know the tools (cameras, lenses, films) of that era. Of course not. People still try to get that same look in their photos and there is no great reason anyway why one should appreciate photos more if they were harder to create, technically. You dont have to compare these photos to the ones produced today with the newest Canon/Nikon DSLR.

But of course one should understand what are the photos taken of and what do they tell. OK, sometimes this is obvious and you dont have to put them in context or know much history etc... But sometimes some background knowledge is needed to understand art like documentary photographs just like some great novel etc...

I am still not saying that you should like "The Americans" but one shouldn't just ignore the facts of history when looking at the photos. Sometimes you have to "study" (or have knowledge) to fully understand a piece of art.
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Old 06-04-2009   #56
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Just started reading this thread, still have to catch up on what's been said, but I will say this about the body of work in question:

First time around I did not understand all the fuss about it. Several years and a number of viewings later, though, I understand and like it much more. Before I began to understand it, I couldn't see where all the great value was that people kept talking about. Now I see it more, and am seeing more as time goes by. Sometimes it can take a while for the significance of something to land.
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Old 06-04-2009   #57
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I agree with David. It's kind of weird... I haven't still really found the key to The Americans, but I can somehow see that I will like it a lot more when I find it. That has happened to me with music quite often also, sometimes with movies and photographs too.

I had some other books that I just didn't think they had any further value to me that I sold after reading through once or twice. Still I would not lose this book, because I somehow know there's something in it.

I mean, yeah I like certain photos now, but trying to read the whole of it makes me kind of a little bored. But then later some images come in my mind.
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Old 06-04-2009   #58
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I wonder what the people here on the Rangefinder Forum think about the literature and poetry of that period in history? Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl"? The novels "The Town And The City" and "On The Road" by Jack Kerouac? They too defined a generation. They were the people who opened the world to pot smoking as a normal part of daily life. Ginsberg made no effort to hide his being gay. A few years later Andy Warhol took the art world by storm, was known for his paintings at first, then for his films, called his place "The Factory", and was also openly gay.
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Old 06-04-2009   #59
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Al
`fraid that I am not to well up on the Americans but have a copy of Howl (City Lights) and have read the Kerouac novels. Some of it did not translate readily to what was going on over here at that time but they did seem to define a mood . Don`t forget Burrows too. How ,from your perspective ,do those works resonate with the photography of that period and what would you consider to be their contibution today ?

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Old 06-04-2009   #60
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I think that it was a time of a lot of resonance. "Literature" was being redefined, as were a bunch of other "arts". "Modern Jazz" and the Newport Jazz Festival was concurrent with the very beginnings of the folk music revival. Suddenly there were black guys singing and playing delta blues in white coffee houses in major cities. Guys who grew up in a segregated world picking cotton and playing in "juke joints" on weekends, names like Furry Lewis, Ledbelly, Sleepy John Estes, were suddenly playing their six strings, 12 strings, one had a 9 string, guitars and dobros to upper middle class white folk, cutting records, making more money than they ever imagined, and were probably still getting ripped off by the industry. White guys like Woody Guthry playing rural southern mountain music. There was a synergy. Suddenly it was OK for a white guy to play blues, a black guy to sing ballads. Two guys to get up on stage together and make music together.

Thanks to Bob Dylan, British pop music (early Beatles for example) got merged with traditional American folk and blues. Dylan fans cursed that their favorite "folky" had sold out. Did Dylan see the future? Or did he cause the future with that synergy?

I don't think that you can take any one name and say "this is his/her contribution". It was a time of change. Marie Cosindas went against the flow of smaller cameras and fast B&W films, shooting 4x5 Polaroids with her view camera. She was born in Boston and worked in Boston. Was her contribution proving that the view camera wasn't dead? That Polacolor was a viable artistic medium? That it was at last acceptable for a woman to remain single without being called an "old maid"?

Playboy Magazine was more than just airbrushed naked girls. It published some great writers. Photojournalism was being redefined by Leicas and Nikons and fast lenses and Tri-X and UFG and Acufine developers.

Photography, movies, poetry, literature, journalism, music. Sexuality, politics, drugs. They're all intertwined. You really can't seperate them and say "This caused that". Just enjoy them for what they are. Then as we used to say "Do your own thing"!
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Old 06-04-2009   #61
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Isn't this thread about Robert Franks? Why all the sniping? Come on guys, take it outside. It was probably inappropriate for me to even post my apology to John here (it should have been via a PM) as no one should be clogging threads with things so far off topic, let alone personal. Work this out off the thread. Or start a new thread. Differences of opinion and healthy debate are great things. However, debate about personalities and personal insults, both real and perceived, are better done elsewhere.
Rob forget the personal stuff between you and I. I agree completely about sniping. I'm not exactly sure what it means, but I think I have a pretty good idea, and you are right.
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Old 06-04-2009   #62
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...and I need to get my amplifier fixed. The turntable still works and there are all of those 12 inch vinyl blues records, even a few 10 inchers, just waiting to be heard again.
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Old 06-04-2009   #63
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I'm going to be seeing The Americans in the next week or so and as always I am curious as to what my reaction will be. Many may love it and I may not, or visa versa.

As with all art, in my opinion, to each their own.

We all draw from differing backgrounds, experiences, preferences... Art is an incredibly personal thing.

Interesting thread. Now, back to gambling in Lake Tahoe
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Old 06-04-2009   #64
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Interesting thread. Now, back to gambling in Lake Tahoe
K, if you joined us this Saturday you'd get to see the show, AND you would have more cash in your pocket. Just a thought.
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Old 06-04-2009   #65
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Mike, I bet the hostesses at Tahoe are better looking than we are though ;(
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Old 06-04-2009   #66
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...and I need to get my amplifier fixed. The turntable still works and there are all of those 12 inch vinyl blues records, even a few 10 inchers, just waiting to be heard again.
Al, I have a stack of vinyl waiting to be played. No 10 inchers. I agree with your comments on the socially-relevant resonance of the 60's. It still reverberates in my head.
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Old 06-04-2009   #67
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Mike, I bet the hostesses at Tahoe are better looking than we are though ;(
Well right now, yes.
But when I throw on my fishnet stockings, pumps, low-cut backless top, and lotsa makeup, damn I clean up good!

(Note: For those who know me, sorry about that image. It even scared the crap out of me when I was typing it.)
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Old 06-04-2009   #68
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Well, I will tell you what Robert Frank's, The Americans means to me.

I was about 14 years old and had purchased a cheap Kodak camera. I found myself taking photos of everyday things around me- my neighborhood, my friends, my mailman, I would wander downtown and shoot random buildings, shoot strangers on the street.

That fall, in school, I had to take an art class. The teacher gave us an assignment and I turned in some of the photos I had been taking. I felt like a dunce, becasue I was not doing well in the class and most of the kids were much more artistically talented than I was. But it was the only way I knew how to communicate.

Anyway, one day, the teacher asked me stay after class and she handed me a copy of The Americans. I remember this like it was yesterday. I opened the book and it literally took my breath away. I realized at that exact moment what I wanted to do in life. The following summer, I mowed lawns and saved my money and bought my first "real camera" from a pawnshop- a Nikon F with a 50mm lens.

That is what the book meant to me.
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Old 06-04-2009   #69
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MikeL, I photographed a chick like that, an "entertainer", a few years back. "She" was a real knockout good looker! A few weeks later I was at the mall talking to some fiends I ran into there, and "she" runs up, puts her arms around me, gushes about how much she loved the pictures, and plants a big kiss on my lips. These guys' tongues are hanging out, seeing her fishnet covered long legs, big boobs pushing up from her bodice, and l'm thinking "I just got kissed by a guy!"
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Old 06-04-2009   #70
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Great story Al!
Rest assured, if I get the chance to meet you in Florida or if you come west to San Francisco, I will not be wearing fishnet stockings or have big boobs, and more importantly, I will spare you the big kiss on the lips.
You're welcome, ahead of time,
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Old 06-04-2009   #71
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Sounds good to me MikeL. In return, if a really sexy "girl" in 5 inch heels and a micro miniskirt suddenly kisses you as we're having coffee at one of those chic South Beach outdoor cafes I'll refrain from introducing you to Harry or Frank or...
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Old 06-04-2009   #72
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Many of the pictures don't jump of the page the way commercial images do. However, once you really examine the pictures they just sing. It speaks to the soul of the American photographer, in my opinion at least, and certainly the time.

Also how many photographers since have decided to make a road trip across America their project? Each time I look at my copy it's more and more brilliant.

My favorite book of street photographer remains, however Winogrand 1964. That kodachrome on the cover is one of my favorite photographs of all time.
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Old 06-04-2009   #73
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Admire the pictures and draw inspiration from them, but too many people try to copy a style, be it Ansel Adams or HCB. Pick a project or theme but don't imitate another photographer's style. You'll waste too much energy attempting to do something that isn't you.
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The Americans
Old 06-04-2009   #74
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The Americans

If anyone thinks the themes in The Americans no longer exist and it is just a book of it's period they have not gotten out to see how things are in this country.
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Old 06-04-2009   #75
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Thanks a lot, Mike... I'm having trouble getting that vision out of mind! :-)
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Old 06-04-2009   #76
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Quote:
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If anyone thinks the themes in The Americans no longer exist and it is just a book of it's period they have not gotten out to see how things are in this country.
You said it, brother.
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Old 06-04-2009   #77
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Could not agree more.

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If anyone thinks the themes in The Americans no longer exist and it is just a book of it's period they have not gotten out to see how things are in this country.
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Old 06-04-2009   #78
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Thanks a lot, Mike... I'm having trouble getting that vision out of mind! :-)
yeah, me too! disturbing, yet....eeesh! never mind.
I won't get any sleep tonight.

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Old 06-04-2009   #79
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Thanks a lot, Mike... I'm having trouble getting that vision out of mind! :-)
I have to agree with Jamie and Ray. The thought of Mike in drag has me reconsidering my participation this Saturday.

Should Roland make an appearance in black pumps and a cocktail dress, however ......
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Old 06-04-2009   #80
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Returning to the original question raised by the OP -

I just reviewed my copy of the book, again. Keeping in mind the discussion presented in this thread, I tried to be objective, even skeptical, as I flipped through the pages. Before long, however, I was quickly reminded of the wonderful eye that Frank possessed. I grew up in America in the 50's. Frank photographed life as it was.

Growing up in America in the 50's and 60's, the media and popular culture wanted us to believe that America was depicted by Norman Rockwell. In fact, America was depicted by Robert Frank. I had the pleasure of moving numerous times in my young life. I had lived in 8 states by the time I reached high school, primarily in the midwest and the south. Robert Frank's ability to capture those ordinary moments in life that, in retrospect, become iconic moments in my country's past, is nothing short of genius.

Maybe you don't agree. Maybe Frank leaves you cold. That's fine with me. I respect any opinion, as long as it's not forced upon me. In my opinion, for what it's worth, Frank nailed it. He looked at America, warts and all, and documented it accurately.

I'll be attending the Frank exhibit this Saturday in San Francisco. I look forward to it, even if I have to accommodate a drag queen or two
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