Sunday, November 8, 2009


"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." Robert Frank

i was fortunate to see the most comprehensive retrospective of frank's work, moving out, at the time at the national gallery when i was in grad school at uva in 1994. i knew about his connections w/the beats & maybe had even seen his film on the rolling stones. mainly tho, i was drawn to the pictures.
the early ones were stunning in their sense of spontaneous composition. he'd captured "moments" perfectly, as they unfolded or revealed themselves as tableau. i don't get the sense of an "outsider" peering into some foreign culture & revealing its truths. i've always felt that frank was very much INSIDE the american experience, that it was his experience as an american w/other americans we get in the pictures.
the later "sloppy" pictures & collages show me the same thing, tho he's working from a more universal experience in them. years of personal triumphs & tragedies are accumulated in the pictures & presented in such a way that they address a larger audience w/specifically personal concerns. their simplicity undermines any convoluted solipsism.
i come back to "sick of goodbys" over & over, it's artifice resonating w/sorrow & pain & forgiveness. another time, it reveals triumph & tenaciousness. or again...

"I was looking at Robert Frank’s photograph Sick of Goodby’s in his book The Lines of My Hand. Moments before I had been listening to a Johnny Cash song called I Wish I Was Crazy Again. Then I thought of the goodbyes in the book to old friends caught once and for all and never again to be seen in life, and I was struck by the intensity of the sadness of life and its redeeming qualities as reflected in these moving photos. With Johnny Cash as well, the desire to see it all again, to go out one more time into the wild flame only to be burned up forever and never be seen again except in these farewell photos, is moving beyond description. The photos speak of an acceptance of things as they are. the inevitable death of us all and the last photo – that last unposed shot to remind us of our friends, of our loss of the times we had in a past captured only on film in black and white. Frank has been there, and seen that, and recorded it with such subtlety that we only look in awe, our own hearts beating with the memories of lost partners and songs.

To wish for the crazy times one last time and freeze it in the memory of a camera is the least a great artist can do. Robert Frank is a great democrat. We’re all in these photos. Paint dripping from a mirror like blood. I’m sick of goodbyes. And aren’t we all, but it’s nice to see it said.

more reflections on frank.

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