The publication of Robert Frank’s The Americans in 1959 shocked the photographic establishment and changed photography forever, through Frank’s adoption of a casual, vernacular style that contrasted with the more formal approach typical of ‘serious’ photography at the time. Frank’s influence over subsequent generations of photographers has been extraordinary, but aesthetically his style differs little from that un-selfconsciously realised by legions of amateur American ‘snapshooters’.
Americans has its genesis in an ongoing academic research project examining domestic photography in Europe and America in the latter half of the Twentieth Century. The project has involved assembling an archive currently amounting to over 20,000 amateur slides (and a few prints) from the 1930s to the 1990s. Americans represents some of the best work of some of these unwitting ‘masters’ of photography; photographers who, by luck, happenstance, or joyous accident produced pictures worth seeing outside the family photo album.
Mike Chopra-Gant is a cultural historian, author and photographer, specialising in visual representation, textual analysis and American popular culture. Mike is Reader in Media, Culture and Communications at London Metropolitan University. He is the author of three books on visual representation in film and television and is currently working on a book length project based on the material on show in Americans.