Robert Frank’s Trip
An attempt at exploring the significance of ‘The Journey’ in Robert Frank’s The Americans. (minus image analysis).
Journeys have a start, a middle and an end – the structure for a story – a loose formula to abide to on the way. The start and the finish of a journey isn’t as interesting as the middle part is– this is what Robert Frank shows us with the images in his book, The Americans. In which, he scatters images from a journey he made and very carefully, places them in to a special sort of narrative – skipping from one subject matter to another and creating a flow of some kind that takes you through the book and on his journey. In fact, it really only feels like its flowing because of the journey. It’s a mess of everything that is in-between – it’s just the middle – and can appear disjointed if you didn’t know that a journey is, just, what it is. But it’s OK, we know that it ends eventually, and in the meantime, he shows us images of what it is that’s in-between A and B, New York and San Francisco, Home and Office, Life and Death.
A journey is the course of travel taken as part of one’s duty – whether a journey of ones own making, or one facilitated by necessity or just plain desire. At times, there has been fever in America for the long-haul trip. This particular one, a vacuum of directional persuasion in life, in the youth of the time – fallout from World War II – a lull in male influence on a generation, amongst many other cultural, technological and social changes that can burden some of the blame for a subtle shift in the mind set of a generation and consequently a nation. With the absence of a World War, no call to arms as great as before, music and the arts soldiered forward, painters paint and thinkers think. Jack Kerouac – a founding father of the beat-generation, a journeyman and author on the subject who knew something of the American journey from being On The Road – along with many other ‘heads’ in the beat circle, rejected mainstream American values on drugs, sexuality and religion also. More significantly in my opinion, is that they can be held responsible in part for a shift in the common mind set. A part of that generation had time and space to think about themselves, about everything that was happening around them and from that came a desire to answer life’s questions and to question direction in life. It was in the polar extremes where these notions flourished after nursing in fine climates. Far West and Far East: New York and San Francisco. Magnetic cities, attracting artists, musicians, thinkers, believers and all types of hipsters, rockers, freaks and fairies. Seemingly throwing them back and forth until they sat right. Some journeymen gathered their own thoughts and conclusions they made in-between these poles and many of them wrote books about it – Frank did, but he didn’t write a book. He photographed one, and in doing so made a social comment so vast and complex that all he could do to some it up at the time was to name it after what those images all say in so many ways. Frank didn’t go from East to West though, he went everywhere and in-between in all directions.
Youths in search of direction stick out a thumb and find the open road. On their way to where their journey ends, be it in a motorcycle gang – joining or confronting – or maybe a pretty girl on a farm just part way through their giant leap, anything could turn out to be the end. It’s not hard to dream, and these dreams were reprocessed as goals; Go your own way! Leave New York City, its not how you read about it. Rack up a little credit, pack it in your satchel along with one change of clothes and a razor. Don your ray ban’s and stick up two fingers to your landlord on the way out. Go with the flow – take to the pace of life on the road, contemplate the new journey to be made at the end of the current one. What a trip! Your in San Francisco now, but is it how you read about it? The theme and idea harks back to the gold rush and going west to find your own fortune. But it’s over there, just the other side of that hill, you can’t quite see it though. Land, gold and opportunity to be had there, so it goes.
However, it goes even further back: Right from the get go, America – the land of opportunity – Emigrate there, start a life, a family, grow your own, make your stamp. Thousands and thousands took to sail, and it was embossed as a nationalistic ideal from then onwards. These are just a few time eras of revolution that contributed significantly to create The American Dream, as we know it now. In one image we are shown a road, from bottom to top, a genuine stretch of Robert Frank’s journey. I can see the glow of light, success and warmth of an ever-burning fire in the distance, over the horizon – right there over that hill, so it goes. The lonesome vehicle on the road, our paths about to meet but headed in the opposite direction. Representative of the loneliness of life, the insignificance of just one passing moment or meeting. Now we have time to think about the image, the moment it was captured – the near ground with its accentuated depth, making it ominous in the image, as the dominant force, a life’s worth of journey. The road appears long and arduous to travel without being able to see the finish line.It occurs to me that a journey can not be captured like this again, even though a trip like it wasn’t exactly original when Frank did it. Back then however, he was the first to put it together like he did, invest and sacrifice like he did, to package it and fill it with the quality he did – and sell it. His journey is unique of course in many other respects, but it shows what is there potentially for all to see, shows Americans that any one of them can take a journey of their own making and see America for themselves, take a trip and a journey to find their goal and all else that is America.The significance of the journey in Robert Frank’s The Americans is identical to that instilled in the ideology of the American Dream which lives on today, spread out through the West. Chasing goals, realising them, believing in dreams and aspirations and striving for their realisation. The book is evidence of his journey, he shows what there could be on any given journey, it shows us Americans and Americans each other. His journey is the significance of the book; The beginning of the journey, the front cover. The end of the journey, the rear cover. What’s in-between those borders is all and none of what is on the way in any American journey. There are poor people, rich people black people, women, children, soldiers and sailors. Sometimes no people at all, sometimes just industry. Sometimes, just open road. Some are horrors, some not. Each a step on a journey which any American could take and they would have their own view on Their Americans. This is Robert Frank’s trip, this is his journey, part of his American Dream.
Go your own way! Leave New York City, its not how you read about it. Rack up a little credit, pack it in your satchel along with one change of clothes and a razor. Don your ray ban’s and stick up two fingers to your landlord on the way out. Go with the flow – take to the pace of life on the road, contemplate the new journey to be made at the end of the current one. What a trip! You’re in San Francisco now, but is it how you read about it?