Fifty Years On the Road: Images of the Car in Robert Frank's 'The Americans'
Although misunderstood and reviled at the time, Robert Frank's 'The Americans' has since emerged as a seminal work documenting the developing culture of America. Central to the impact and success of the work is Frank's recognition and presentation of significant and emerging symbols which define the emerging civilisation. These include filling stations, diners, juke boxes and, perhaps most eloquently presented, the automobile. Frank images cars which are present at conception, which serve as a nannies and childhood friends, cars which facilitate romance, are the seat of great endeavours and the object of worship, cars which perpetrate murder and become the conduits and memorials of the dead. The notion of a life lived 'On the Road' is not unique to Frank, reflecting, rather, an allegory of life's journey and the pursuit of paradise on earth widely expressed and examined in near contemporary culture. Jack Kerouac's classic novel, along with F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby', film's such as 'Of Mice and Men', 'The Grapes of Wrath', alongside 'Rebel Without a Cause' and 'The Wild Ones' and experimental and innovative music from John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Woody Guthrie all enfold Frank's series of pictures. The parallels with the works of painters such as Jasper Johns and Willem de Kooning, who was Frank's neighbour for a time are also evident.This presentation will examine Frank's images in the context of contemporary and near contemporary culture, society and politics.
Keywords: Cars, Robert Frank, America, 1950s, Photography, Culture, Politics
Dr. Jonathan Peter Day
Senior Lecturer, School of Theoretical and Historical Studies in Art and Design