Less Américains by Mishka Henner

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 Americains from Mishka Henner on Vimeo.

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.

Jason Eskenazi and Robert Frank at the Met

Studio 360 interviewed Dva favorite and friend Jason Eskenazi about his life as a Metropolitan Museum of Art security guard and his relationship to the art all around him. It culminates in his experiences with the brilliant exhibition Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans (which is on view through January 3rd, and which I get to see in a couple days!).
Jason Eskenazi chasing Obama before the inauguration in Edgewood, Maryland. 2009
You’ve got to listen, only 5 and a half minutes. Beautiful.
And he alludes to new work coming, cannot wait.

(h/t Tom Leininger)

Robert Frank Speaks

Not sure how far this has made it around, but I saw a small link to this on the lightstalkers alerts section and was enchanted. Robert Frank spoke to, and was recorded by, the New York Times. They put together an ‘interactive feature’ called On the Road.
New Orleans. (c) Robert Frank
There is also an article and interview with Frank appearing in the Times: “Robert Frank’s Snapshots From the Road”. The first fascinating thing is that there is to be an exhibition in Washington DC at the National Gallery of Art titled “Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans” from January 18 through April 26, 2009. The article is unclear (really really unclear), but there might be some (or all? that’d be nice) of the contact sheets from the 767 rolls shot shown at the exhibition or published in an accompanying book.

In the multimedia piece Frank describes the above picture as his favorite from the book, because of the movement and variety of people on the street. It has always been a wondrous, cornerstone picture for me too. (One of so so many from the book). It has such a new feel, such an important composition and feeling. There is a connection between the photographer and scene far beyond the surface.
I first saw The Americans in highschool and it really did change the way I looked at pictures… “you can really take pictures like this?”. So it must have had something to do, subconsciously, with this picture of mine, which is also a favorite of my own work … for many the same reasons as Frank likes his picture. ‘Decisive moments’ with crowds of people… I for one can admit to not even remembering snapping the shutter at the scene. It was a wonder to find in the negatives.. a magical moment. Another one of those scenes felt more than seen.
Another place I’ve seen a similar photograph is this fascinating image from Brazil by Alex Majoli. I’d love a print of that..