Robert Frank Outtakes

(Rudy Rucker is a guestblogger. His latest novel, Hylozoic, describes a postsingular world in which everything is alive.)


There's a great show at the SFMOMA now, showing all 84 prints from Robert Frank's classic mid-1950s photo book The Americans, along with some outtakes, such as the image shown above—which is not in the book.

The reason the image above looks funky is because it's my photo of Frank's casual working print that's glued to a wall at the show with a bunch of others. More outtakes can be found in Looking In, the catalog for the show, which also includes all the prints from The Americans—but I'd say the print quality of the images in the catalog isn't as good as in the book, although the catalog does have a lot of interesting essays.

I've had a copy of The Americans for years, and I study it fairly often. So it was almost dizzying to see the book's 84 pictures on the walls, in order—it was like getting inside this world at last.


[This is one of the Americans photos on display]

Another cool thing about the show is that they have, like I said, a wall of these working prints of Robert Frank's outtakes for the book, all curly-edged, as if still in Frank's studio. He took some 20,000 photos while driving in a huge loop around the US, then printed the 1,000 pictures that he liked best, and then winnowed those down to the final 84.

I grabbed shots of two of the outtakes for this post. I like the waiting-room scene at the start of this post, the languid curve of the woman's hand, and it's cool that these aren't models, they're just people hanging out. Women actually wore hats like that in the 1950s, even in bus-stations!

And the outtake below shows some Buicks getting unloaded and, in the background, on the billboard, a guy with a moose.


From Jack Kerouac's introduction to The Americans:

Robert Frank, Swiss, unobtrusive, nice, with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a big sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank with the tragic poets of the world. To Robert Frank I now give this message: You got eyes.