Robert Frank

How many of us silently bless Robert Frank when we see or remember his photographs?

I’m sure that the answer is: huge numbers of photographers – and ‘photo-maniacs’ as Henri Cartier-Bresson called us – all around the world. And why do we feel such gratitude, which goes beyond mere admiration? I think that it is because, when we recognise Robert Frank as a visual poet, he makes poets of us all. Bill Brandt is among the photographers who offer us the same gift. It is hardly surprising to find that Frank admires Brandt enormously. It is thrilling to read Frank’s impressions of the Bill Brandt retrospective curated by John Szarkowski at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1969. At that time, thanks to the boldness, flair and enthusiasm of Bill Jay, Frank was writing a regular ‘Letter from New York’ for Creative Camera magazine.

In December 1969, in the last of his five letters to the magazine, Frank wrote about the opening of Brandt’s exhibition. He was deeply moved by the exhibition and especially the nudes. When he bumped into the photographer Gjon Mili, who said he didn’t ‘buy that stuff’ (the nudes), Frank reflected that many photographers remain mediocre because they fear commercial failure. He memorably remarked that ‘There is all the time in the world in Brandt’s photographs… This time the viewer makes the decisive moment’. For Frank, ‘Brandt is one of the few photographers who maintains a standard in his work as time goes on’.

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Published in Photoworks Issue 3, 2004
Commissioned by Photoworks

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