Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Photographers on their favorite image from The Americans

The Photographer by Spice ♥ Darling
The Photographer, a photo by Spice ♥ Darling on Flickr.
Photographer Jason Eskenazi was working as a guard at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 2009 when the museum hosted "Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans," a fiftieth anniversary retrospective of one of the most influential bodies of documentary photography. Eskenazi asked dozens of photographers he recognized at the show to name their "knock-out favorite image," and explain why they chose it. The following is a selection of the responses he has compiled in his new book, By the Glow of the Jukebox: The Americans List, which he premiered in September at the Bursa Photo Fest in Turkey. They're reprinted here as they appear in the book; when we have made edits for the sake of clarity, we printed them in brackets.


KEN SCHLES: "St. Francis, gas station, and City Hall--Los Angeles" (Plate 48)

Outwardly it's not the most seductive image. I may have gone with [plates] 66 [Movie premiere--Hollywood], 67 [Charity ball--New York City], 68 [Cafeteria--San Francisco] or a host of others that were more overtly visual. But I went with 48 because, to me, foremost, The Americans is a book of images about an image of America. And 48 has it all: the road, the cars, the parking lot, the gas station, the fading city hall, the telephone poles receding in the distance--and all of them are presided over by, and seemingly being blessed in their emptiness by another symbol, the crucifix held by a dark statue of stone of St. Francis. And they are all empty and alone in their being. They denote a world, a time and a place where image supplants any life lived, for in this image there is no life. No people--save two microscopic figures almost in silhouette, two diminutive stick figures in this place of nowhere that is everywhere, unaware of each other and going in opposite directions.

--K. S., New York

STANLEY GREENE: "Elevator--Miami Beach" (Plate 44)

Jason ... This is for you ... The first time I saw the picture of the girl on the elevator, I was taken by the innocent beauty, it reminded me of the girls from my high school, you know the ones dreaming of their prince to come and to take them away from the day to day ... you can see it [in] her eyes just in another space and time, she also has that timeless beauty of a Laura Petrie from the "Dick Van Dyke Show" which was set in New York and New Rochelle where I grew up, so there was some kind of connect, also I think I might have gone out with a girl just like her, her name was Joan, we use[d] to hang out at the local diner drinking cokes, munching down western cheese burgers and fries [and] following it with a milk shake and sex ... and I do remember she had the same hair and maybe the skirt, and she was dreaming of a prince to come and take her away I guess I was not that Prince so we broke up, and then again she was not that Princess, and she was no Laurie Petrie, but she was cute, and sexy just like the elevator girl, but that picture, it does cause one to dream back ... to another time just like she is doing on that elevator, dreaming of her Prince, for her sake I hope he did come and take her to a castle and just like Jack [Kerouac, who wrote the book's introduction], I might have wanted to pick her up too ...

--S. G., Port-au-Prince, Haiti

KEN LIGHT: "Political rally--Chicago" (Plate 58)

I have always loved Frank's many gems, and sorry I didn't see you on guard when I visited the show in NYC. I like to think about the many reviewers who canned Frank and said his work is a "meaningless blur, grainy, muddy exposures, drunken horizons and general sloppiness." All things that have been embraced by the next generation and I imagine future generations would be wise to do the same. The image I am drawn to is the tuba player and bunting[,] a wonderful vision of America, the white noise of everyday life ... best on your travels.

--K. L., Berkeley, California

J. ROSS BAUGHMAN: "Men's room, railway station--Memphis Tennessee" (Plate 52)

My favorite Robert Frank photo (from a fresh look today) would be the men's room shoe shining in Memphis, Tennessee. It was one that may well have required the most courage to take.

--J .R. B., Washington, DC

ANDY LEVIN: "Coffee shop, railway station--Indianapolis" (Plate 70)

I am going with the coffee shop in the railroad station, the feeling of loneliness, and the way that the lights seem to float about the worker. Robert Frank had a beautiful eye for design, and for people, and an uncanny ability to create sequences of images that rose above any particular frame. The Americans is about restlessness, and change, and this particular image stands out for me.

--A. L., New Orleans

STEPHEN FERRY: "Public park--Cleveland, Ohio" (Plate 74)

Because the image shows a young virile cowboy, sleeping alone, on the grass, in a public place. His posture, and the optical effect created by the tree which bisects him below the waist, suggest sexual desire and loneliness. Like he is having an erotic dream. Maybe in that dream he is accompanied, but in public he is alone. All of which is very intimate and yet public. For me, The Americans is filled with these moments of private yearning, and personal loneliness, played out in public.

--S. F., New York

PETER VAN AGTMAEL: "Beaufort, South Carolina" (Plate 55)

Beaufort, South Carolina isn't my favorite image now, but it was the first picture that drew me into the book. I loved the mysterious scene, the sun burning the morning fog away, and that moment of intimacy and distance with a stranger that represents the meaning that photography brings to my life. The excitement of seeing something that compels interaction, however fleeting. A moment in time instantly gone that hopefully for undefinable reasons becomes something permanent.

--P. V. A., Red Hook, Brooklyn

MICHAEL ACKERMAN: "Coffee shop, railway station--Indianapolis" (Plate 70)

i'm sorry it took me so long to answer, i've been away a lot and when home completely involved with my daughter, i don't have the americans with me. the picture that keeps coming to my mind is of a black waitress behind the counter of a diner, as i remember her she's looking slightly over her shoulder at robert frank. that instant when a photographer is caught looking and taking, in this instant neither of them backed down. i imagine he fell in love for a moment, smiled at her and left. when i here the song invitation to the blues by tom waits i think of her.

--M. A., Berlin

Source Citation (MLA 7th Edition)
"Photographers on their favorite image from The Americans." Photo District News Nov. 2012: 26. Communications and Mass Media Collection. Web. 6 Nov. 2012.
Document URL

Gale Document Number: GALE|A305562122

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