Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans

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A while ago I ordered this book from Waterstones. Got it for £30 (inc P&P) as it hadn’t been released in the UK at that point and I’d pre-ordered it. I had to wait quite a while as I pre-ordered it about 2 months before it was released here.

It is an amazing book, especially if you like photography.

For some reason it’s now out of stock and selling for over £100 from Amazon’s affiliate sellers which was a bit of a surprise. Perhaps only a limited print run was done (note: the paperback version is much cheaper and is not as comprehensive). The hardback, which is the one I bought, is the prized, collectors’ edition.

As books go it’s quite exquisite. Printed in Germany on very thick paper, you could literally lose yourself in this book for hours on end, as I have begun to do. It has everything: letters, memos, contact sheets, ticket stubs, notes, scraps; the lot. At over 500 pages long it really is comprehensive.

I’ve only just begun dipping into it but am really enjoying it. I should also state, at the outset, that it was the blogging of he who lives across the pond that first made me aware of this book which set me on the road to buying it!

Ryan also keeps tempting me with his use of medium-format film photography (he’s old school!) and he’s taken some great pictures just recently. Do check out his blog.

Anyway, if you’re into photography you will like this book. On the Waterstones website it mentions something about ‘reprinting available to order’ so you may not have to shell out £100 for it after all. They still list it at £47 though!

Don’t know who Robert Frank was??

First published in France in 1958 and in the United States in 1959, Robert Frank’s The Americans is widely celebrated as the most important photography book since World War II. Including 83 photographs made largely in 1955 and 1956 while Frank (b. 1924) traveled around the United States, the book looked beneath the surface of American life to reveal a profound sense of alienation, angst, and loneliness.

With these prophetic photographs, Frank redefined the icons of America, noting that cars, jukeboxes, gas stations, diners, and even the road itself were telling symbols of contemporary life. Frank’s style—seemingly loose, casual compositions, with often rough, blurred, out-of-focus foregrounds and tilted horizons—was just as controversial and influential as his subject matter.

(Source: National Gallery of Art, Washington DC).

More about Robert Frank on Wikipedia.

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Cabin fever

Source: Telegraph / PA

Another day of working from home and I now have cabin fever. I’ll go in tomorrow unless the weather really turns bad – which I don’t think it will.

Have just been out to do some shopping. Absolutely grim out on the pavements as much of the heavy snow (we had over 10″) is now turning to slush so it’s really disgusting. We do have sun and blue skies though, so that’s something.

We’ve had wall to wall coverage on BBC News24 / Sky News about the ‘snow event’ – the heaviest snowfall for 18 years. Much of the country was at a standstill yesterday and today – 5,000 schools are closed and a vast swathe of the country is still not at work (5 million today; yesterday it was 6.4 million).

I am reminded – as anyone here must be – of the British obsession with the weather, a fixation that at times seems to border on the messianic. Jeremy Paxman alluded to this on Newsnight last night. Really – it doesn’t matter what the weather is like in this country – a bit too dry, too cold (as it was in January), too hot, too wet, too windy – and there will be mass coverage and commentary across all strata of society. Whilst many national stereotypes fall slightly wide of the mark – this one most definitely rings true. For foreigners here (of which there are many), it must all be quite amusing to see how the British react (and an amusing article in The Times with overseas observations).

For my part, the novelty is definitely over and I really do want business as usual. This has been a long, long winter for more reasons than one. Extremely cold over much of January and now all this snow; am really hoping spring is around the corner.

So I’ve tried to work from home but have really struggled; I just can’t get motivated. I’m on email and on the phone with the office intermittently, but I can’t knuckle down. So I’ve been out to do some shopping. Am going to make my trademark meat sauce later (bolognese or cottage pie base and it is delicious – I’ve made it so many times) which required a visit to the butcher. I’m lucky because it’s a really good London butcher – a dying breed these days (and I have long lamented the fact that we don’t have a greengrocer here). So I bought 1/2 kilo of steak mince and also some cheese which caught my eye.

I’m always slightly perturbed by the way the butchers (it’s a family firm) don’t bother with plastic gloves or suchlike – as you’d get at the supermarket – instead using bare hands dug deep into the mince and then into a paper wrapping. Same when it comes to handling money – no cleaning of hands. They are salt of the earth types and the meat is very good indeed – so I tend not to worry, but I’ve always been a bit OCD about meat (and in fact don’t eat much of it – I don’t eat chicken or lamb on animal welfare grounds, for example). That said, British pork and beef I am partial to but I don’t eat the imported stuff.

So I shall cook a bit later. I may go down on my hands and knees and scrub the bathroom floor, too. I hate cleaning but it has to be done (in lieu of a male French maid!)

Oh, and I treated myself. Of course I blame Ryan. He plugged Robert Frank’s opus to such an extent that I just had to buy it myself (seems cheapest at Waterstones online though not currently in stock). So I shall look forward to that whenever it arrives; it’s on special order.