“I remember the guy [policeman] took me into the police station, and he sat there and put his feet on the table. It came out that I was Jewish because I had a letter from the Guggenheim Foundation. They really were primitive.” He was told by the sheriff, “Well, we have to get somebody who speaks Yiddish. They wanted to make a thing out of it. It was the only time it happened on the trip. They put me in jail. It was scary. Nobody knew I was there.” (10)
When Frank was with his camera, he felt liberated from his labels as a Jew, immigrant, and foreigner. In the quote above, when Frank was being arrested, he was imbued with fear because he was no longer able to communicate with his lack of English and Swiss accent. His greatest trepidations came to life when he felt helpless against the officer’s prejudice towards him as a Jew and alien. Taking pictures with Frank’s mentality, as a foreigner and immigrant, allowed me to open my eyes to Ann Arbor. Growing up thirty-five minutes away and having relatives as alumni to the University of Michigan, I became comfortable with Ann Arbor and began to ignore the subtleties happening around me. Embodying Frank’s methods, I had to step outside myself and view my surroundings as abnormal. This led me to discover Ann Arbor in a new way. After my time spent viewing the world through Robert Frank’s eyes, I am now less passive when walking the streets of Ann Arbor and I see the oddities in everyday life. For example, below are two images of interactions between people that become ridiculous when one takes a moment to stop and look. Both of these photographs were taken in places filled with people, but the awkwardness of these situations still carried on. Robert Frank took photographs in America with the purpose to provoke thought from his audience, not to criticize. By taking pictures with that mantra, I wanted my viewers to feel uncomfortable with some of my photographs. Similarly how people felt uneasy when they saw the pictures of segregation in America, I want the picture of the girl’s legs spread around a boy, showing affection in a public domain and the picture of another boy passed out, while a girl tries to give him a lap dance, to provoke edgy emotions. Robert Frank has taught me to pay attention to my environment and to realize the provocation of emotion of people’s actions.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have captured the city of Ann Arbor through Robert Frank’s lens. I learned a great deal about Frank’s methodology and purpose, along with the personality and character of Ann Arbor. I was able to understand the basis for taking pictures secretively, as to not disturb or influence my subjects. Frank taught me that this was the only way to photograph people to show who they truly are because once they know that they are being photographed, they change themselves to portray their ideal self. Also, this allowed me to overcome my shyness and take pictures of people from uncomfortable proximities and hidden areas. Now, I tend to find myself quietly observing my surroundings, waiting for a moment to capture my attention. Frank’s ability to photograph America in the 1950s with meaning and confrontation, made him one of the best photographers of his time.
Many view Frank as one the greatest photographers of his time because he was not afraid to take pictures that no one else would have. Growing up in a foreign country and having a minority’s religion allowed Frank to ignore the political correctness of the 1950s to capture the honest America. Aside from the political commentary Frank’s photographs portrayed, his artistic capabilities were seen in his pictures. Frank wanted his audience to be apart of the pictures he took. For example, he blurred “Assembly line – Detroit” to make the audience feel the quick paced reality found in a car factory. Furthermore, Frank used similar gestures, emotions, and gazes to connect and validate the order of The Americans. I too found similarities in my photographs that helped me organize them in a meaningful way.
The Americans will forever be known as a commentary on life in the United States during the 1950s. Although there were many photographers that photographed America at the time, none were in the same realm as Frank. Frank’s Jewish background, combined with immigrating from a conservative country, set him apart from his colleagues. Frank had a different eye that could see beyond what most Americans could. Only when his audience saw his striking photographs juxtaposed with each other, could they see bitter realities occurring around America. Frank has taught the world how to step back and meticulously view its surroundings, and catch the eccentricities of life that bring truth and introspection.