Thursday, April 30, 2009

Robert Frank was here

"San Francisco, 1956," Robert Frank, All rights reserved

My friend Ted Sher wrote to say that this picture was "talking to" my "White boys" picture (see previous post).

Yeah, talking. In Frank's picture though, the voice is clotted with rage. It's a deadly serious whup-your-ass voice so unnerving it jolted Frank's camera up a compositional notch (I'm guessing) out of sheer terror. In my picture, the voice is relaxed, ironic. My title is playful. It invites the reader to be amused by the postmodern plethora of meanings for the term "white boy."

Like Frank, I took my picture without permission. But when I titled it, I knew -- guessed -- that my subjects, like me, would be able to parse the meanings of "white boy" with detachment, without fear. Franks's picture is different. He's the white boy. In his picture, what that means is anything but playful to the couple who feel their privacy has been invaded.

I'm guessing (again) that after taking this picture Frank hurried away, fearful & probably guilty. After all, what could he know about the future of the image that was coiled in the innards of his Leica? Now, more than 40 years later, the picture reveals in an instant the smouldering state of U.S. race relations in that era. It's a gift, a legacy to the generation -- both whites & blacks -- that came after. But I'm guessing that , to Frank at the time, this picture must also have been a source of conflicted feelings -- excitement mixed with shame.

More on this blog about Robert Frank:


PLANET said...

Last summer PLANET magazine covered the re-release of the Robert Frank’s “The Americans” and now they’re catching readers up with the traveling collection that began in Washington, D.C. and can now be seen at SFMOMA through August 23, before heading East to the Met in NY from September 22–December 27, 2009. To learn more about Frank and preview several images check out our new blog.


Will said...

If I remember correctly, this one is the image Frank liked best from "The Americans."

And rather than hurry away, he continued to photograph, pretending to be shooting the skyline, hoping they wouldn't suspect he had photographed them.

Regardless, it's a chilling image.