Book Review: Reframing America

Seven who made a contribution

I thought this was a fascinating little book (it's only ninety-six pages) about seven European émigré photographers: Alexander Alland; Robert Frank; John Gutmann; Otto Hagel and Hansel Mieth; Lisette Model; Marion Palfi. No doubt others could have been included, Andreas Feininger is one that comes to mind but I think the seven were probably chosen because they represented a European tradition of liberal creativity which is shown in the sixty-five photos.

All the images are, what loosely might be called, reportage of events in American life from the thirties to the late fifties. Hagel and Mieth (who I hadn't heard of before) have sixteen varied photos ranging from a wonderful New York 1938 street scene crammed full of detail, the German-American bund taken in 1938 to four charming farm ones that appeared in a 1950 Life photo essay called the Simple Life. Marion Palfi (another unknown to me) has nine that cross the boundary between straight news and art photography. Not easily, done it would seem but her work captures the visual imagination. Robert Frank, the most well known of the seven only gets five photos and the reproduction of one of his contact sheets, which I thought was rather an odd choice. One of the five is that brilliant Hollywood premiere shot from 1956 where the glamourous starlet is out of focus and the anonymous background crowd is in precise detail.

The paperback is nicely produced with a photo a page printed with a 175 screen, all captioned though these are printed in either black or a light brown (which is a bit unreadable). The front pages have two short essays by Andrei Codrescu and Terence Pitts. I thought the book was useful as an introduction, apart from Frank and Gutmann, to some interesting lesser-known photographers.

Reframing America is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN)

Reframing America - 01

Reframing America - 02
A spread from the intro with an Alexander Alland 1948 newsstand.

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Portrait of Alexander Alland.

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Alexander Alland.

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Left: a wonderfully detailed 1938 Eastside, New York photo from Otto Hagel and Hansel Mieth.

Reframing America - 06
John Gutmann.

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Lisette Model.

Reframing America - 08
Marion Palfi.

Reframing America - 09
Marion Palfi.

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Robert Frank.

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Otto Hagel and Hansel Mieth.

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