Robert Franks’ Americans
When scanning through the photographs taken by Robert Frank, one would say that most are just pictures. They are merely pictures of people in their everyday lives. Then a second look shows something more. Maybe there was a purpose behind the photographs. Perhaps Robert Frank was trying to show something with a reoccurring theme.
In two of the photographs, there is an American flag. In the first of the two photographs depicting the flag, it is the main object. When looking at the picture with the rule of thirds in mind, the flag is in the upper half of the four sections, spreading across two of them. This indicates that there is a greater importance of the identification of the flag than of the two individuals standing in the windows. To further the flag’s importance, it is also appropriate in mentioning that the second individual’s face is completely covered with the flag and the person’s face on the left is left in the shadow but the rest of her figure is in plain sight. This could be taken as a mere stroke of luck, or perfect planning. To me, when I see an object with such meaning like the American flag covering a person’s face, it is saying that there is no particular face, or visualization to be put with America. That part is open for interpretation because there are so many different options to choose from. The second photo in the series that contains the American flag has a similar principal to it. In this photograph, the tuba player’s face is covered by his instrument. This creates a somewhat uninteresting figure which in turn draws the eye upward to yet again, an American flag. The covering of the individual’s face now seems far less of a coincidence and rather an objective of Frank’s.
The remaining images seem far less patriotic, but they too have meaning. They speak monumental y of the life style of American’s in the 1950’s. Given the era, it would be safe to say that there is another theme behind Frank’s photographs and that is the segregation-or even at this time- lack thereof, of African American’s and Caucasians. For the time period, seeing the photograph of the African American woman holding a Caucasian baby is almost absurd but defines the idea of the American flag and what it is to be an American. That is what Robert Frank was trying to convey. The next photo to be viewed is people aboard a mode of transportation. The significance of the photo is that there are both African American’s and Caucasian riding together.
Beyond those two themes, the photographs take on a separate theme from the rest and that is just the idea of American people shown from every walk of life, in their natural settings. There is a photo of a woman standing in an elevator, which is probably her occupation. The next photo of this theme is of a cowboy leaning against a trash can, jeans tucked into his boots, lighting a cigarette. Following is what appears to be a famous woman amongst a crowd of admiring fans. Last in this section is a woman and a child in a car. The perspective of the photo might lead the view to believe that they are living out of their vehicle as well.
Looking at these photographs today, without knowing that they were from the 1950’s and knowing the history of that era, they would not hold the same connotation as what they were meant for. Robert Frank had a very direct message that he was trying to capture and send to his viewers. I believe these photographs being viewed in that era would have a greater impact on its audience than they do today .