"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: