The American Dream Scholarship
How it works
I did not realise when the module photo had ‘The History of Photography’ on the Cantor website that is was the gallery we were supposed to visit, it was misleading. Upon discovering that I missed the actual installation we were supposed to visit I am glad that there is a solution, so I will be comparing Walker Evans and Robert Franks photography styles. To get full comprehension on both styles of work first we will start at the beginning. Walker Evans was born in a wealthy area of St Louis, Missouri in 1903.
He graduated high school from an all-boys preparatory school, began college for a year before dropping out and heading to France for another year. After his return to the U.S., Evans joined the New York art crowd and began photography in 1928.
Evans began working closely with the FSA. The Farm Security Administration was one of President Roosevelts ‘Alphabet Agencies’ that helped combat rural poverty in the Great Depression.1 Evans was asked to document certain criteria of the Great Depression, being careful not to show how the reality. Evans work for the FSA was to capture America’s poverty-stricken, but being born into a wealthy family, Evans never related with the poor farmers he photographed. Walker Evans is remembered as an FSA photography yet his most notable works, the photos we have seen in our textbooks, are actually from a photography stint for a magazine as a part of Fortunes “Life and Circumstances” series. The photos are of Alabama cotton sharecroppers, the Burroughs and Tingle family.
Robert Frank is a photographer and filmmaker most known for his work The Americans. Frank was born in 1924, he was of Jewish descent and his family was forced to hide in Switzerland during the Nazi reign, bearing the weight of oppression, Frank turned to photography as a way to escape. Frank came to the United States in the 1950s and soon discovered that America was not the land of opportunity that he was promised. The Americans were heavily money focused, materialistic, and became the subject for his most known book. Robert Frank began his journey to make The Americans in 1955. He was awarded the first Guggenheim Fellowship for photography to a non-American, which are for those “who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts,”2 the Fellowship allowed him to travel the U.S. The Americans showed another America, the reality behind those who were not necessarily living the American dream, the book contained everything ‘good photography’ was supposed to avoid.
Frank set off on his expedition, and in a metaphorical sense, his American Dream. Along all the way of photographing America’s working class during the Cold War, he was stopped for being of foreign descent, Jewish, driving an older car, and carrying lots of camera equipment. According to the police report in 1955, he had many documents in a foreign language and a passport without a photo, which resonated with the police as being a spy. The Americans was published in 1958, and in 1959 Robert Frank created his first film. Franks most controversial film and arguably most popular was a documentary for The Rolling Stones. Similar to The Americans, it showed the gritty behind the scenes of the band, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The film was unlike the poised, well thought out photographs we saw from Frank, some scenes in the film were shot in a way where any one backstage could pick up a camera and start filming. The montage editing exposed the bigger questions hidden within the film, the loneliness, the constant need to be ‘on’, and overall pressures of day to day life as a public figure. In the end The Rolling Stones decided to halt distribution of the film and took Frank to court.
Robert Frank has said that Walker Evans was a big influence on his photography, even though many critics place them on opposite spectrums. Robert Frank is often noted as one of the affluential ‘street’ photographers, while Evans practiced straight photography. Both photographers used a structured, head-on style that shows the point of focus as well as having an underlying message. As Brett Abbott says, “his (Evans) pioneering ‘lyric’ style was elegant, subtle and direct, fusing a powerful personal perspective with an objective record of time and place.” Frank’s ‘street’ style is a looser version of Evans, he would capture motion blur by showing us a moment in time. There is neither confrontation nor resolution, he saw beauty in emphasizing the truth. There was something unmistakably American about giving the voiceless a voice.
Walker Evans can be described as a ‘street’ photographer. If you look into his Subway Series, he hid a miniature camera in his coat. Evans wrote: ‘…these anonymous people who come and go in the cities and who move on the land; it is on what they look like now; what is in their faces and in the windows and the streets beside and around them, what they are wearing and what they are riding in, and how they are gesturing that we need to concentrate, consciously, with the camera.’3 He often took photographs which he used to describe street graffiti and rubbish of the world. The images have a feeling of authenticity by showing real subway riders, his favorite subjects for photos included people in unusual clothing, interesting facial features or movements, pushed out of frame or the photos being slightly off center. Evans’s work has been interpreted as cold, but Evans Subway Series was progressive for his time and helped pave for the way for other photographers such as Robert Frank.