In the late 1950s, when Swiss photographer Robert Frank delivered his book of photographs to his funders the Rockefeller Foundation who had paid him to do the work, the people who paid him to do the work were aghast. Instead of sharp Time-Life images that glorified President Eisenhower&rsquos &lsquoGolden Fifties&rsquo, Frank&rsquos camera had paused on entirely different things across the United States poverty, racism, stark landscapes, sterile factory vistas, the tackily ubiquitous US flag, venal and angry and despairing people. The beauty of these images was not of the kind understood by the conservative and uncaring rich at TRF who quickly tried to bury the book.
When The Americans was finally published in Paris, with a brilliant foreword by Jack Kerouac, it was actually banned in the States. It was only when the first US edition came out many years later that ordinary Americans could access this brilliant visual travelogue. Frank had been commissioned to make a portrait of America what he did was to make a road-movie in stills, taking his Leica and hitting the highways, driving to wherever the mood took him, stopping when something caught his fancy. Three iconic images from the book stand out for me three crosses marking accident victims at the side of a highway, an abandoned petrol station and the image of dark tarmac snaking away with a white line at the centre, the afternoon sun shining down, very classic now, but first made by Robert Frank for this book.