The Americans

"A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know" - Diane Arbus
Diane Arbus, Puerto Rican Woman
with beauty mark
, 1965.











Cologne Cathedral after allied bombing
Alfred Eisenstaedt, V.J. Day, 1945.
The Kissing Sailor or the Selective
Blindness of Rape Culture











The Family of Man


The Family of Man

Wynn Bullock











To "explain man to man" and to celebrate "the essential oneness of mankind throughout the world" - Steichen





















Photographer Unknown, The Family of Man Exhibition, 1955.











Child in the Forest

Wynn Bullock, Child in the Forest, 1951.












People montage











Parents and children

Parents and children layout











Charles Fenno Jacobs, Much tattooed sailor aboard the USS New Jersey (BB 62), 1944.











Dead Soldier

Raphael Platnick, Dead Soldier, 1944.











A mushroom cloud follows the test detonation of an 11-megaton nuclear device over Bikini Atoll on March 26, 1954.


Who is the slayer?  Who the victim?  Speak.  - Sophocles











W. Eugene Smith

“If Mr. Steichen’s well-intentioned spell doesn’t work, it can only be because he has been so intent on the physical similarities that unite ‘The Family of Man’ that he has neglected to conjure the intangible beliefs and preferences that divide men into countries and parties and clans.  And he has utterly forgotten that a family quarrel can be as fierce as any other kind.” – Phoebe Lou Adams
W. Eugene Smith











In the late 50s, marginalized groups
begin to gather in resistance

Civil Rights Movement of the 60s
Anti War movements
Feminist Movement of the 70s
Gay Rights Movement of the 80s
Ernest Withers, Workers Assembling for a Solidarity March, Memphis, Tennessee, 1968.











1960s artists begin to question
Societal norms
American consumerism
This questioning leads to a marked rejection of convention
  • Who determines how a photo should look?
  • What is photography?
  • What is appropriate photographic subject matter?
  • What is the role and responsibility of the photographer?
Robert Frank, Los Angeles, 1955 - 1956.











Pre-War Aesthetic:
Documentary style
The decisive moment
Genius, individual photographer
Ansel Adams, Yosemite Valley Clearing Winter Storm, 1942.











Post-War Aims:
  • Photographers wanted to go beyond
    commercial look of social realism
  • Exploration of the personal and the philosophical
  • Self-expression and experimentation
    rather than documentation
  • Elimination of the conventional
Aaron Siskind, Jerome, Arizona, 1949.











The Americans


Robert Frank, U.S. 285, New Mexico, 1955 - 1956.












American Graffitti, 1973











Robert Frank, Parade, Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955 - 1956.











Robert Frank, Trolley- New Orleans, 1955 - 1956.











Characteristics of images in The Americans:
  • Disregard for established photojournalistic standards
  • Private, unglamorous images
  • Use of blur, grain and movement
  • Sense of freedom
  • No sense of security
  • No decisive moment
  • No independent masterpieces (like The Steerage), the series functions best as a whole
Robert Frank, Jehova's Witness,
Los Angeles
, 1955 - 1956.











Covered Car
Car Accident

Robert Frank, Covered Car - Long Beach, CA,
1955 - 1956.

Robert Frank, Car Accident - U.S. 66, between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona, 1955 - 1956.