“Crazed voyageur of the lone automobile”
Jack Kerouac on Robert Frank’s The Americans (1959)
In 1959, Jack Kerouac wrote an introduction to Robert Frank’s collection of photographs The Americans. This introduction, marked by a belief in everyday American life as a critical and radical entry into the poetics of photography, sets the scene for a particular reading of Frank’s images, one in which a particular Beat aesthetic is measured vis-a-vis the lyrical quality of Frank’s images. Nonetheless, to this day the importance of Kerouac’s writing as a guide post towards a deeper understanding of The Americans remains unexplored.
This lecture therefore re-examines Kerouac’s introduction and Frank’s photographic vision of America by taking into account how concepts of space and temporality are used in the book overall to define photography as ‘Beat’ as well as transcendent. By looking closer at Kerouac’s fascination with the mnemonic and iconographical power of the photograph, Frank’s transcendent eye is defined in terms of an ability to show the “everything-ness” of America; both an homage to and critique of a nation.
While Kerouac stresses the romantic version of the photographer as American flaneur, Frank himself was able to locate certain patterns of American identity without Kerouac’s tendency towards nostalgia. Commonly read as an iconic piece of photographic history in the context of the Cold War, the overall constellation of The Americans must therefore be read in the light of the written commentary that accompanies it.
Dr. Caroline Blinder is Senior Lecturer in American Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London. Recent publications include: New Critical Essays on James Agee and Walker Evans: Perspectives on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 2010, ‘Brassaï’s Chair, Henry Miller and The Eye of Paris’ in Text and Image Relations in Modern European Culture, 2011, ‘Sitting Pretty: Modernism and the Municipal Chair in the Work of Kertész and Doisneau, in Regarding the Popular: High and Low Culture in the Avant Garde and Modernism, 2011, ‘The Bachelor’s Drawer: Art and Artefact in the Work of Wright Morris’ in Writing With Light – Words and Photographs in American Texts, 2009, ‘Not so Innocent: Vision and Culpability in Weegee’s Photographs of Children’ in Photographs, Histories, and Meanings, 2009, and chapters on James Agee and Wright Morris for Fifty Key Writers on Photography, 2012.
This talk runs from 6:30 pm at 51 Hoxton Square, London N1 6PB.
Our talks are open to everyone. We recommend booking early to avoid disappointment, as numbers are limited.
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