Editions and History: Robert Frank – Les Américains/The Americans

The History

In June, 1955, Robert Frank purchased a five year-old Ford Business Coupe in New York, this purchase would signal the start of a road trip, that would first see the Swiss-born photographer drive alone to Detroit, then in late Summer south to Savannah and Miami Beach, before heading to St. Petersburg, and New Orleans, an then on to Houston, for a rendezvous with his wife Mary, and their two children, Pablo and Andrea. Together, they would drive west arriving in Los Angeles shortly before Christmas. They remained on the Pacific coast until May 1956, when Mary and the children returned to New York, leaving Frank to continue his 10,000 mile trip alone. His route took him via Reno to Salt Lake City, before joining U.S. 91 to Butte, Montana, then through Wyoming, Nebraska, and Iowa, before arriving in Chicago, where he turned south, arriving back in New York in July.

In just over a year, Frank exposed more than 760 rolls of film, producing some 27,000 photographs, and on his return to New York, he began the mammoth task of editing his work. Over the next few months he selected and printed 1000 work prints, which he pinned to the wall of his Third Avenue apartment, or laid on the floor, slowly editing these prints to just 100, and then the 83 that would make up the final sequence of Les Américains (Robert Delpire, 1958).

Frank received an advance of $200 for The Americans (by the end of the year the was book out of print, and this sum had risen to $817), the road trip itself had been financed by a Guggenheim  Fellowship. His application to the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation in the autumn of 1954 listed five supporters, including the legendary art director of Harper’s Bazaar, Alexey Brodovitch (1898-1971), who had hired Frank as an assistant photographer, when he first arrived in New York from Switzerland in 1947, and the great photographers Walker Evans (1903-1975) and Edward Steichen (1879-1973).

Frank’s application stated his aim was to record ‘what one naturalised American finds to see in the United States that signifies the kind of civilisation born here and spreading elsewhere.’ It is worth remember that at this point Frank was not yet a naturalised citizen of the United States (he was awarded US citizenship in 1963, to which he remarked ‘Ich bin ein Amerikaner’), and Evans had a hand a significant hand in drafting the written application.

Like many great works, the initial reaction to The Americans was scathing, with condemnation coming think and fast, ‘A Degradation of a Nation!’; ‘a sad poem for sick people,’ the editors of Popular Photography where so incensed they published no fewer than seven reviews in the May 1959 issue, with just one proving ‘unreservedly admiring,’ in short The Americans, was viewed as un-American. But this was short lived, with more editions and reprints of this book being published than possibly any other photobook, reflecting the significance and influence of Frank’s seminal work.

Key Editions

•    Les Américains, Robert Delpire, 1958
•    Gli Americani, Il Saggiatore, 1959 (Italian edition)
•    The Americans, Grove, 1959 (Introduction by Jack Kerouac)
•    The Americans, Aperture, 1968
•    The Americans, Aperture, 1969
•    The Americans, Aperture, 1978
•    Les Américains, Robert Delpire, 1985 (French translation of Kerouac’s introduction)
•    The Americans, Pantheon, 1986
•    Die Amerikaner, Christian Verlag, 1986 (German edition)
•    Amerikanzu: Robato Furanku shashinshu, Takara-jimasha, 1993 (Japanese edition)
•    The Americans, Cornerhouse, 1993
•    The Americans, Scalo, 1993
•    The Americans, Scalo, 1998
•    The Americans, Steidl, 2008 (50th anniversary edition)
•    Die Amerikaner, Steidl, 2008 (German edition)
•    The Americans, Steidl, 2008 (First Mandarin edition)

Other books by Robert Frank

Where possible, Amazon links have been provided

•    Hold Still – Keep Going, Steidl, 2011
•    Tal uf Tal Ab, Steidl, 2010
•    Portfolio: 40 Photos 1941/1946,  Steidl, 2009
•    Frank Films: The Film and Video Work of Robert Frank, Steidl, 2009
•    Seven Stories, Steidl, 2009
•    Black White and Things, Steidl, 2009 (re-issue)
•    Paris, Steidl, 2008
•    Zero Mostel Reads a Book, Steidl, 2008
•    Pull My Daisy, Steidl, 2008
•    Peru, Steidl, 2008
•    Me and My Brother, Steidl, 2007
•    One Hour, Steidl, 2007
•    Come Again, Steidl, 2006
•    New York to Nova Scotia, Steidl, 2005
•    Storylines, Steidl, 2004
•    Frank Films: The Film and Video Work of Robert Frank, Scalo, 2004
•    London/Wales, Scalo, 2003
•    Hold Still – Keep Going, Scalo, 2001
•    One Hour, Hanuman Books, 1998
•    Flamingo, Scalo, 1997
•    Thank You, Scalo, 1996
•    Black White and Things, Scalo, 1995 (Facsimilie of 1952 edition)
•    Robert Frank: Moving Out, Scalo, 1995
•    The Lines of My Hand, Distributed Art Partners, 1995
•    Black White and Things, 3Nishen Publishing, 1991
•    The Lines of My Hand, Parkett/Der Alltag, 1989 (revised edition)
•    The Lines of My Hand, Random House, 1989
•    Flower is…, Yugensha, Kazuhiko Motomura (Tokyo, limited edition of 500)
•    Thats Life, self-published, 1980
•    The Lines of My Hand, Lustrum Press, 1972 (condensed edition)
•    The Lines of My Hand, Yugensha, Kazuhiko Motomura, 1972 (Tokyo)
•    Me and My Brother, a handmade/promotional book for film of same name, 1965
•    Zero Mostel Reads a Book, New York Times, 1963
•    Pull My Daisy, Grove Press, 1961

Wayne Ford

Further reading

Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans, Expanded Edition, Steidl, 2008.

0 thoughts on “Editions and History: Robert Frank – Les Américains/The Americans”

  1. Thanks for this.
    I was familiar with the book history, but I really appreciate the fact that you spent some time in finding all those links to all the other publications, a great source of inspiration..
    Marco

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