Re-imagining Frank’s ‘The Americans’

We looked at Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ quite some time ago now but recently a few interesting reworkings of the original have appeared.

Photographer Mishka Henner created the cheekily titled ‘Less Americans‘ which, in his own words:

…is a remake of Robert Frank’s classic photobook, The Americans. Eighty-three new images have been created by digitally erasing most of the visual content from Frank’s photographs, leaving only solitary details from the originals. The sequencing remains faithful to Frank’s 2008 Steidl edition of the book whilst the design of the covers and title pages are influenced by the first Delpire edition printed in France in 1958.

Check out the video of the book below, it certainly reminds you just how much those images have become part of our memory, so much so that almost all are still easily recognizable.

And a thanks to Nathalie Belayche for bringing this one to my attention:
Sounds of The Americans‘ is an audio/photographic project created by Andrew Emond, in his own words:

Sounds of the Americans is an experiment in sound and photography using the contents of Robert Frank‘s photo book The Americans” as a foundation for exploration. The audio tracks are the result of converting the photographs to sound via computer software outlined below. Similarly, the images have been created by loading the sounds into a spectrograph application which allows one to recreate the original photographs in a highly altered form.

I find it fascinating, a complete breakdown and rebuilding of the images. Listening to the audio while watching the video is hypnotizing and you will quickly find yourself trying to guess how the pitch will change as the image is built up. I have embed one of the videos below but for best experience head over to the site itself.

– Matt

Observations – A Summary

A huge thank you to all who have contributed to the discussion of Avedon’s ‘Observations’. We have compiled an archive of the posts below for future reference and will also be listed under the reading list page.

Please continue to share any links and further chatter around ‘Observations’ as we will keep updating the blog to provide an even better archive of information for future reference.

The Photo Book Club World Map

We would love to create a comprehensive map of all the best places to buy photobooks and zines around the world and so are asking for your help!

Let us know where the best place to buy photography books and zines are near you. We will add them to the map with your comments and a thanks.

twitter: @photobookclub
hashtag: #photobc

(The map will always be available for reference from the Resources page of this site)

You can see the shops we have already placed by viewing the map below or click the link to open in google.

View The Photo Book Club World Map in a larger map

The Americans – A Summary

A huge thank you to all who have dropped by and especially those who have contributed in the first month of the Photo Book Club, looking at Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’. We have compiled an archive of the posts below for future reference and will also be listed under the reading list page.

Please continue to share any links and further chatter around Frank’s masterpiece as we will keep updating the blog to provide an even better archive of information for future reference.

An American Journey – Film following Frank’s footsteps

Below is a short introduction and trailer to Philippe Séclier’s film ‘An American Journey’ which follows in the footsteps of Frank’s own journey. We are keen to hear from any who have seen the film and could offer their comments? The DVD is available here.

UPDATE: A excerpt of Rich Beaubien’s review for the film is shown below. His full review can be seen in the comments section. Big thanks to Rich for this!

In contemporary photography, everybody agrees there is a “before” and an “after” The Americans, Robert Frank’s 1958 photographic manifesto.

Half a century later, French director Philippe Séclier decided to follow in Robert Frank’s footsteps to explore the spirit of the “Beat Generation” and the impact of his book, The Americans, not only on the art of photography, but also on american culture.

From Texas to Montana, from Nebraska to Louisiana, from New York to San Francisco, An American Journey is a 15,000 miles odyssey through contemporary America, moving between past and present, photography and cinema, and two Americas, separated by time.

Though I’ve picked up many ideas about visual structure from cinematographers and films I’m just not a regular movie-goer so my not having seen this film is both typical and true but seeing a Twitter message come across my screen from the folks here at The Photo Book Club piqued my interest.

Philippe Séclier’s engaging, one hour long, documentary starts out as a film about the making of a book. Séclier spent two years (2005-2007) retracing the Frank travels around the United States interweaving interviews with attempts to revisit a handful of the book’s most famous photos.

San Francisco-area photographer Wayne Morris describes how Frank made a ‘first cut’ by actually cutting individual frames from strips of negatives and skipped making contact sheets. Anne Tucker the curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas thumbs through the dummy of the book made by Robert Frank in 1957.

Sarah Greenough, a curator at the National Gallery of Art and curator of the exhibition Looking in: Robert Frank’s The Americans and editor of the catalogue, is seen thumbing through some beautiful photographs that Frank did not to include in his book. “He could have made an even more negative view of America,” she says.

Stuart Alexander speaks of the initial critical reception of The Americans that the photos were not about “all” Americans and maybe “Some Americans” was more appropriate.But the film isn’t really about Robert Frank or The Americans it’s about Séclier’s view of America and as Ed Ruscha acknowledges in the film, “It takes an outsider, really, to show us what’s it all about. We don’t know ourselves.”

I recommend the film for those you haven’t seen it. It’s only an hour and if you are familiar with Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ it will be a well spent enjoyable hour.

– Rich Beaubien

The Americans – by Andreas Schmidt

Thanks to ‘Here on the Web‘ for sharing the link to Andreas Schmidt’s book ‘The Americans’ in which Schmidt has sourced 83 images from Google to create a current version of Frank’s work. You can see a full preview of the book as well as purchase it, from blurb here.

Andreas Schmidt - The Americans

We would love to hear from anyone who has the book themselves – pop us an email

Schmidt’s Synopsis:

“Few books in the history of photography have had as powerful an impact as The Americans”, said The New York Times about Robert Frank’s photobook first published in 1958. More than 50 years later and made entirely without the help of a Guggenheim fellowship comes Andreas Schmidt’s take on a portrait of America. Selected from over 20 million photographs found on Google images, 83 photographs tell a story of contemporary America – pictures of normal people, everyday scenes, lunch counters, bus depots and cars, and the strangely familiar faces of people we don’t quite know but have seen somewhere. They are pictures showing the “American way of life” as we haven’t yet quite been able to see it ourselves, photographs that condense the entire life of a nation in classic images that speak to us today, and in another 50 years to come.

Links, comments and suggestions

We thought it would be useful to have a place where all the great suggestions, comments and links can be seen easily. Below are the thoughts shared so far about Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’. Keep them coming through the hashtag #photobc in Twitter or share links and blog posts in to comment section below.


Steve Goldenberg
There was a show of all 83 images at the Corcoran Gallery of art in DC a year or so ago. Just amazing.#photobc

Thing that sticks with me most about The Americans is contrast b/w how familiar the imagery looks but how foreign the images feel #photobc

Rich Beaubien
I grew up in the US during the 1950’s and came of age during the tumultuous 60’s. Frank’s book documents the middle of the 1950’s and was released just prior to the explosive 1960’s decade. I found my first copy of The Americans in a second-hand bookstore sometime in the early 1970. It was Kerouac’s name on the cover that first enticed me (I was born and raised in Kerouac’s home town), in the end it was the photographs that captured me. I wasn’t sure what I had, but the evocative images struck me from the beginning. The careful sequencing (where I learned how story telling takes shape) and the format, with the blank facing pages, lends itself well to close inspection of each photo. There has always been, at least for me, both a subtleness and strong articulation in the images. Plus they all have some sort of interesting angle and often carry some humor. When looking at these images I often get transported as an observer back in time to the moment, becoming part of what is happening. These photographs captured the breadth this country as it entered a pivotal decade of the 20th century – the hope, difficulties, feelings, tension, and insecurities.

I guess this became more of a rambling personal reminiscence, than a review. Still, it was inspirational in my own development in that I realized for the first time of the possibilities capturing someone in public. I never saw a photograph the same way again.

John Edwin Mason
There’s a lot of good audio on the website of the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, DC, which mounted a major exhibition on The Americans (and including Frank’s entire career) in 2009.

You’ll find an hour-long conversation between Frank (in very good humor) and Sarah Greenough, plus other talks by Greenough, Stephen Brooke, Martin Gasser, Olivier Lugon, and Alan Trachtenberg, among others. Here’s the link:

My favorite edition of The Americans might be Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans, which was the catalog for the National Gallery exhibition. It contains, besides the usual scholarly essays, reproductions of the contact sheets on which each of the photos in the book appears. And there are few things in the world more fascinating that a great photographer’s contact sheets.

Looking In also contains some of the photos that didn’t make it into the book. It’s wonderful to see what made the cut and what didn’t.

Thanks for putting this together, gents. Should be fun.


Brian David Stevens
EXHIBITION: Some contact sheets from the Americans are up at the Tate Modern at the moment. must admit I prefer Frank’s Paris more at the moment

Larissa Leclair
INTERVIEW: “Robert Frank, Sarah Greenough and Joel Meyerowitz on ‘The Americans'” (2009) #photobc
(Also mentioned by David Campbell)

ESSAY: Robert Frank: The Americans on American Suburb X

Rich Beaubien
Might be a good time to revisit NPR’s story on Robert Frank and ‘The Americans’ #photobc

And if you haven’t seen it there’s “Frank’s ‘The Americans’ Elevator Girl Sees Herself ‘  #photobc
(Also shared by Matt Dunn)

John Edwin Mason
You’ll find an hour-long conversation between Frank (in very good humor) and Sarah Greenough, plus other talks by Greenough, Stephen Brooke, Martin Gasser, Olivier Lugon, and Alan Trachtenberg, among others. Here’s the link:

Matt Johnston
Shane Lavalette looks at the influence of Frank’s ‘The Americans’ on Danny Wilcox Frasier’s ‘Driftless’


Larissa Leclair
I would be interested to hear a discussion about the initial criticism for the book when it was published in the US and a discussion on how the sentiment changed to be lauded as such an influential book.

In Reply – Pete Brook
I think Larissa’s wish to read criticism upon the release of ‘The Americans’ is tantalising. I’d like to see those reviews too.

Iain Sarjeant
Congrats on the launch of @photobookclub – would love to see Keld Helmer-Petersen discussed in the future #photobc

Brian David Stevens
Maybe a future discussion on what great photobooks are out of print and why that is….?

Henry Iddon
Its not photography but Colour by Derek Jarman is a brilliant book that should be read by anyone in visual arts.