Mishka Henner, a photographer we’ve written about before on dvafoto, has a new project out called Less Américains. It is a photo book of digitally manipulated Robert Frank photographs from the iconic The Americans, printed in an edition almost identical to the original book.
Less Américains is a remake of Robert Frank’s classic photobook, The Americans. Eighty-three new images have been created by digitally erasing most of the visual content from Frank’s photographs, leaving only solitary details from the originals. The sequencing remains faithful to Frank’s 2008 Steidl edition of the book whilst the design of the covers and title pages are influenced by the first Delpire edition printed in France in 1958.
I’m skeptical about this project, at least from seeing the book preview video, perhaps it is different to behold physically, maybe right next to the original. Many re-appropriation works (or musical remixes, which seem relevant) are interesting to me and build on the original or explore new territory; this at first glance just leaves me puzzled. But still it is a somewhat bold proposition: remixing one of the most iconic documentary photo books of all time and to print it as a companion volume. Further, even Robert Frank seems somewhat ambivalent about The Americans now and what the project “means” or “says” fifty years later. Much of Frank’s later work is some sort of deconstruction or re-layering of photographs or video. At least compared to the iconic “straight” documentary nature of the original Americans.
It might even be a trend in photography now (Brauer pointed out this print by Joe Webb as another example) of cutting solid shapes out of photographs while creating new works of art. I’m sure you can show us more examples, good and bad, of this sort of collage.
Henner and Liz Lock together are represented by Panos Pictures, and their work is solidly within the documentary tradition. Henner however has many recent projects that involve reinterpreting or appropriating existing photographs. In fact, the timing of this new work is interesting, as I’ve already been thinking about Henner this week. An interview I’m preparing touches on one of Henner’s projects from 2011, No Man’s Land, which is built on Google Street View images of presumed prostitution. More on that soon. You can purchase the book Less Américains from Henner directly at this link for £80 + shipping. I can’t wait to read a proper art critic’s take on this project, and what it might mean to abstract this type or era of photography with modern methods. I’ll admit, the more I think or look at this project the more interested I become.