Today I visited the Robert Frank exhibit at the Jeu de Paume. This building, located within the Tuileries Garden, is all devoted to photography and usually runs several exhibits at the same time. Therefore if you are interest in one of the great street photographers and plan to be in Paris over the next month, don’t hesitate to visit that great exhibit which will end on March 22nd. The main floor dedicated to Robert Frank had the full series of two of Frank’s books displayed, that is « The Americans » and « Paris ».
So, after going through the whole exhibit, the following impressions and thoughts came to my mind :
- I had a clear preference for « The Americans » over the « Paris » series and found that matter of fact puzzling as I live in Paris. Indeed, I did find the pictures of « Paris » full of poetry yet not in any ways as powerful and documentary as the Americans. Robert Frank being European, it might have been more difficult for him to extract the essence of his own continent than America’s which he could discover with a candid eye.
- plenty of pictures had a very approximate focus. Yet I found it made them even more expressive and added to the poetry of most of the scenes depicted by Frank. It was a refreshing view, as nowadays photographic equipment manufacturer’s marketing arguments have us running for the latest in terms of sharpness, lack of vignetting or even micro-contrast. Robert Frank is one more proof that the equipment does not make the photographer and as many of the greatest shots in the History of Photograph were made with 1950 equipment.
- finally, I often read the following statement : »this picture has already been shot in the past, this is nothing new ». Consequently, are most contemporary street photographers damned to repeat the shots of the past made by Greats such as Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson or Walker Evans ? While our style is certainly a mix of many influences, shots taken in 2009 are definitely different than 1950 as fashion, architecture and mainly society has evolved significantly. A given framing might have been done before, but the content and its meaning cannot be repeated. Would a couple have dared kiss next to a lineup of people in total indifference back in the 50′s (see shot below)? Probably not …
Leica M8 with 35mm Summicron at F4, ISO640
Leica M8 with 35mm Summicron, ISO640