Jack Kerouac writes in his introduction to Robert Franks seminal book “The Americans”;

After seeing these pictures you end up finally not knowing any more whether a juke box is sadder than a coffin […]

What a poem this is, what poems can be written about this book of pictures some day by some young new writer high by candlelight bending over them describing every gray mysterious detail, the gray film that caught the actual pink juice of human kind. Whether ‘tis the milk of humankind-ness, of human-kindness, Shakespeare meant, makes no difference when you look at these pictures. Better than a show.”

This is one the most heartfelt and passionate introductions to a photography book I have ever read. You can genuinely feel Kerouac’s delight and wonder at the possibilities – at that time never realized before – a handful of street photos could create. Possibilities Kerouac recognised were way beyond a normal use of captions and indexing made impossible by the sheer overpowering scale of human feelings expressed and painted in shades of grey.

Who if not Kerouac could write about these photographs, who if not the man who elevated the “on the road” literature to art? But Robert Frank succeeded in the long run where Kerouac fell short. His book, though a masterpiece of literature, has lost the appeal it had for at least two generations of grownups. The world has changed, people travel, and youth is emancipated and enjoying freedom. The stories of the book sound like an echo from an ancient era but the photos, though dated, still have the same intensity.

Universal feelings glimpse through the eyes of the elevator girl doing probably an odd and repetitive job, like the one you would find somebody doing today, at the till of Wal-Mart or Tesco.

Elevator — Miami Beach, 1955. Photo by Robert Frank

 What I find so striking in Frank (and this might go for Evans and Winogrand, who I admire hugely, as well) is that they concentrate on the bare minimum, stripping away the unnecessary and avoiding photographic puns. Their focus is the individual, humans in their everyday practice, which might look common but nonetheless allows a merciless insight on modern society.