Jack Kerouac wrote of the photographs in The Americans, “That crazy feeling in America when the sun is hot on the streets and music comes out of the jukebox or from a nearby funeral, that’s what Robert Frank has captured in tremendous photographs taken as he traveled on the road around practically forty-eight states in an old used car…” describing the photographer, “Robert Frank, Swiss, unobtrusive, nice, with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world.”
Sometimes it takes a rite of passage in order to begin to define something. For Kerouac, like Frank, his took the form of a road trip;
“What is the meaning of this voyage to New York? What kind of sordid business are you on now? I mean, man, whither goest thou? Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?”
“So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast…I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty, the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.”
-Kerouac’s On the Road
But for some it is not the road trip rite of passage that comes to define their America; for some, America is defined by matchmakers, sold-out concerts, and duets with Barry Gibb.
(The following is a letter to Nicholas Sarkozy, who recently awarded Barbara Streisand the medal of The Legion of Honor followed by stating flatteringly, “You are the America that we love”)
I assume that this has more to do with James Brolin’s hand than with such Streisand claims to fame as Hello, Dolly!, Yentl, and Nuts.
I’m not sure about you, but unlike Sarkozy, when I think of America the first thought that comes to mind is not the lyrics to Second Hand Flowers, He Touched Me, or Send in the Clowns.
I suppose we can learn something from this, however… that French conservatives love Barbara Streisand. I wonder who Jean-David Levitte listens to on the radio during his commute to the G8 summits?
So, while I am glad that the French have found a common thread in Fanny Brice/ Dolly Levi/ Susan Lowenstein/ Esther Hoffman, I can only hope that there is an America that the world might love a little more than Barbara Streisand.
Robert Frank’s The Americans
Jim Goldberg’s Rich and Poor
Walker Evans’ Many Are Called
Stephen Shore’s Uncommon Places
Richard Avedon’s Evidence
Lee Friedlander’s Little Screens
Alec Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi
Ken and Melanie Light’s Coal Hollow
William Eggleston’s Los Alamos
Mitch Epstein’s Family Business
Helen Levitt’s Slideshow
Elliot Erwitt’s Snaps