Robert Frank

2 quotes: Winogrand compared to Frank & importance

By | photography, street photography

“Although profoundly influenced by Frank, Winogrand’s work is informed by a more analytical and systematic intelligence than that of his predecessor; this intelligence has allowed Winogrand to deal successfully with experience more complex, subtle and philosophically unresolved -more mysterious- than that described in Frank’s work”

“[ … ]  most issues of importance can not be photographed.”

John Szarkowski, preface from “Mirrors and Windows, American Photography since 1960” © 1978 MoMa New York.


By | photography

Diane’s forlorn freaks,

Garry’s uneasy streets,

Lee’s hidden signs,

Robert’s lonely places,

for what it’s worth…

on Robert Frank

By | photography

We have been mislead to believe that the important moments of our lives are only the highlights, the happy holidays, the birthday parties, another baby’s first steps in a sunny park. That’s what we’re supposed to be photographing. Others record the news of the day, the travels and landscapes, scenes to impress the world… Robert Frank showed us that we overlooked, all of the moments in-between, when nothing important seems to happen, which are nevertheless so meaningful since they make up the bulk of what we describe as “our days”. His melancholy imagery is like stuff from all of our gone dreams, vaguely remembered but loved. Nothing sad about that, it’s just the passing of things.

old world, new world

By | photography

I went to see the photographs Robert Frank took when he visited Paris in the 1950’s after he had moved to the United States. Even though I have seen much of his work, including some of his exhibited photographs, I was impressed again by the intensity of his vision which makes the technical imperfections of some of his small prints completely irrelevant. Photography from the heart, the way it should be. And Paris, impoverished after the war, has become a silent, shy old lady in his pictures, tired, scarred and wrinkled, of another time and full of memories. Frank, expatriate, reminded of his own past, sees himself in its inhabitants, survivors of the hard years, picking up their inglorious lives amidst the remnants of history. Soft trembling greys fill out these photographs, lots of empty space in the suburbs where an old horse endures the playful children, walls, cobblestones, old building in the morning mist. In the park the chairs await sunnier days, the stuff that chansons are made of, a few flowers in an improvised vase, left alone, Paris stuck in its past, the fifties.

The Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam, added a smaller series from its collection of Ed van der Elsken photographs, also Paris in the 1950’s. Worlds apart from Robert Frank. Ed, who was a friend of mine, wasn’t looking for the past, but found a new freedom in the group of rebellious young outcasts that hung around in the cafés and jazz joints of the rive gauche. He was fascinated by Vali Myers, who was an excentric free soul from Australia. Ed built her a monument in photographs (“Love on the Left Bank”), which also became a portrait of Paris. His photographs are noisier, wildly romantic and printed in dark contrasts, celebrating youth and the promise of the new freedom that was in the air. Both Ed and Vali have died, but they live on.

fame flickering flame

By | photography

I own this photobook “Italia” by Guido Piovene (ed. Carlo Bestetti, Roma, 1955) with rather nice black and white photographs, of which I recognized a few rightaway. Where or when I bought it I don’t remember. I looked at the index…Alinari, Bischof, Cartier & Bresson…..Cartier & Bresson ??…  was he still so unknown then that they took his name to be a cooperation between 2 different photographers ?

I think of Robert Frank (bless his somber spells – I adore his work!) who was quoted to have remarked: “So I’m famous, now what…” So what indeed. “On…” Samuel Beckett would have remarked. Now there’s another genius for you. But who’s reading his books nowadays (and I don’t mean Waiting for Godot). Well, there’s me, for one.

big money?

By | photography

You know the Diane Arbus photograph of the creepy kid with the toy handgrenade, looking as if he could kill his own mother? Someone once remarked -and I found it to be both funny and true- can you imagine some manager hanging that picture proudly on the wall behind his managerial desk in the big office room? He might fear the reaction from a visitor: “O, nice, your grandson, I suppose.”

Photographs with strangers on them don’t seem to be attractive as a decoration. Much too confronting, too personal. People who have the taste and the money to buy a good photograph will still prefer a landscape (in color most of the time) or something perfectly meaningless, but aesthetic, to the more problematic work of say, Robert Frank or Winogrand. So, if you want to make money from photography without having to wait for fame, forget street photography. Do it for passion or you will be disappointed big time.

why the blog

By | street photography

My website is all about photographs, about straightforward black&white analog (film) photography. And there are some pretty strong pictures, I think. But even the strongest photography can be diluted by putting too many words in between, so I decided to separate the texts from the images.
In this blog I will therefore comment on my own work, as well as possibly on current developments and subjects of interest in photography, with a special focus on real street photography in the Garry Winogrand vein. Other favorites that will no doubt be mentioned in the near future are Lee Friedlander, Robert Frank and Diane Arbus. So please visit this blog from time to time if you are interested in the backgrounds of my work and my thoughts about photography. Until later!

all texts (unless indicated otherwise)    © Tom Stappers