The Americans

Robert Frank: The Americans edited by Jack Kerouac, Robert Frank. Steidl/National Gallery of Art, Washington. Hardcover, 180 pages. $39.

The cover of Robert Frank: The Americans

Though the cultural history of the United States in the first half of the twentieth century is in large part a tale of immigrants, Robert Frank’s rise to prominence as a quintessentially Ameri­can photographer and his creation of one of the best-known photographic accounts of American life is in many ways a story unto itself. Following in the tradition of Walker Evans and the FSA photojournalists, this Swiss native journeyed throughout the country with his Leica camera in 1955 and 1956. The resulting portfolio of eighty-three photographs presents far more than a sociological portrait of the postwar nation. As fellow road-tripper Jack Kerouac wrote in his introduction to the 1959 edition, “he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film. . . . To Robert Frank I now give this message: You got eyes.” Frank, however, was unable to secure a US publisher for his project, and Les Américains first appeared in France, in 1958. Now, to mark the book’s fiftieth anniversary, Steidl has published a new edition ($40; distributed in the US by DAP), complete with Kerouac’s introduction, making The Americans the most famous photography book all over again.