As Michael has shown us, the process of editing and sequencing photographic work is a process that’s at least as important to the actual shooting of images. But his example of Robert Frank’s The Americans is interesting for another reason: isn’t this the almost archetypical one-hit-wonder?
Or put differently: what else do you know by Robert Frank?
The problem with art & architecture, social & natural sciences, or any other field produced by people, is the problem of longevity and moreso the problem of continuity. Robert Frank produced 28,000 images, and of those he selected only 83 to be included in his book. If someone was to ask me, I could only name these 83 images as his work. Because I am curious by nature, I set out to find out other work done by Frank. The problem is that you can (almost) not find any.
The Americans is such an iconic piece of work that firstly it seems to overshadow anything else done by him. With Wikipedia as your friend, it is soon clear that Frank basically quit photography after The Americans. I have not researched the exact reasons for this – I am sure they are written down somewhere – but just for the fun of it, I would like to speculate on his reasons. It is conceivable that the work on this one book was so exhausting, so creatively tiring that he could not continue photography. He switched to filmmaking – semi-successfully at most. The only well-known film work by Frank is a documentary about the Rolling Stones – titled Cocksucker Blues – that resulted in a lawsuit by the band against him and that was subsequently never officially released.
This doomed collaboration with the British band resulted in the only notable photographic work up until that point by Frank after The Americans, the cover of the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street.
Frank still was sought after and thought about in the decades after 1958. Not many people will be aware of the fact that Robert Frank received the Hasselblad Award in 1996 – 40 years after the publication of The Americans. The following citation can be found on the Foundation’s website:
“Robert Frank is one of today’s leading visual artists. He has contributed to a renewal in the fields of both documentary and fine art photography and within ‘independent American film art’. Having as his starting point the objective realism of the art of the 1930s, Frank has pursued his distinctive search for truth, whatever the medium, with determination and consistency. His pictures have had a decisive influence on generations of photographers, painters, filmmakers, critics and writers.”
The question remains, if this “decisive influence” stems only from The Americans. If so, it is proof that an artist – a photographer – can have everlasting success and reputation by producing only 83 pictures or 1 book.
An insightful interview with Robert Frank can be found on American Suburb X.