Why I love street photography & Robert Frank

I have always felt most free when I roam the streets, unknowing of what creative, exciting and powerful images I may capture.

For me the streets are where the world is most alive. It is where a collective group of individuals come together and create a bigger whole. Our parades, our protests and our wars, our culture, our vibrancy, our unity and our individualism; it all comes alive on the streets. To be able to capture moments and memories the people in the image may never know about, whilst telling a story of the environment you are in, is what truly gives me the thrill and sense of creative licence with being a photographer.

Street photography has been around since streets were built and cameras were made. It is in a photographer’s nature to capture the world they see around them. I had a plethora of photographers I could choose to do my research on. From Henri Cartier Bresson, Bruce Gilden, Elliott Erwin to Vivian Maier. However, after watching a 2005 documentary, there was one photographer whose work, life and personality really appealed to me, and that is Robert Frank.

Robert Frank - “Black and white are the colours of photography. To me they symbolise the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.”

Robert Frank does not over complicate his work. He allows the world around him to create the stories. It is very telling, that at least with his work he does see things very black and white and notices his role as the photographer is to be able to project the world to the people around him.

 

© Robert Frank

© Robert Frank

The above photograph is among my favourites of Robert Frank’s work. It is not sharp, it is grainy and slightly under exposed. But it gives me so much thought and feeling and that is what I want when I review a photograph. Whilst tack sharp well exposed images are pleasing on the eye, if they do not tell a story, then they are sure to leave my mind.

I love how the small child is running away from the shot, it gives me a huge sense of space and freedom. The way the person opposite is framed by the window of the car door – it is like looking at a photograph within a photograph. I may be wrong, but the vehicle seems to be a hearse, yet where is everyone? Whether I am right or wrong the point is this image gives me feelings and makes me ask questions. In my opinion that is what the role of a photographer is – to make people think and feel.

Robert Frank – “Show through photography, how does it feel to be here”.

Such a simple outlook but not always easy to do. For me, Robert Frank was a master of letting you feel how he felt and how the people in the image felt right in that moment.

© Robert Frank. The Americans.

© Robert Frank. The Americans.

This image supports the above quote and does everything Frank set out to do with his work. In 1955 racism was still very much alive and social class was often determined by the colour of your skin. From left to right, the women with a look of superiority and somewhat disapproval of Frank’s inquisitiveness – “We do not want the world to know the truth” I can see her eyes say. The young boy, at the beginning of his awareness of his privilege, whilst the young girl still oblivious to the truth and her innocence still intact. And then the black male, tired, defeated and has the acceptance of his position at the back of the bus.

Images like this were the reason why for so long The Americans was rejected by many. The USA was trying to sell the American dream – What they did not want you to know is the small print, that the American dream was only applicable if you were white and middle class or above. Frank outed that.

It does not always have to be doom and gloom when showing the viewer what it is like to be in a certain place and time. Whilst often controversial, there was also a more positive and upbeat side to his work.

© Robert Frank

© Robert Frank

Paris, 1949. This image of a women holding flowers is a wonderful reflection of what many people around the world thought and hoped Paris to be. Creativity, beauty, sophistication, life, nature and wisdom, they can all be sourced from this image. I look at this image he took and I think – “It must have been wonderful being there”. And that is what he wanted me to do – feel and connect.

© Robert Frank  

© Robert Frank

 

This final image of Robert Frank’s work that I want to share with you, could very much be viewed as a self-portrait through the use of someone else. Robert Frank rarely gave interviews. Outside his work he was very much an introvert who did not like the spotlight on him. He was married twice and by his own admittance was too distant in relation to the relationship with his children, especially his son who after years of mental health struggles sadly died at age 45.

I think this image wonderfully captures the man Robert Frank was. We know he is there, we know he is around, but yet he does not want us to see his face and he does not want us to see his feelings. Space, isolation and above all loneliness are all within this image.

Through my research I honestly believe Robert Frank was a deeply lonely man and that the streets around him was his only true source of companion. His work, for me, is truly remarkable because it shows what he wanted to see, what he wanted to be, and who he actually was.

Be inspired but be yourself.

We all take inspiration and ideas from the people that we admire the most. It is human nature, especially in beginning, to say "I want to take pictures like them". Whilst initially this is a great way to learn the craft and develop your creative eye, eventually you want to have your own identity. I want people to look at my work and not say "that reminds me of Robert Frank", but rather "I knew that was taken by Dan Ginn".

What photographers have inspired your work? Who makes you want to live and breath street photography? I would love to know, you can contact me via the portals below.

Thanks for reading.

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