The New Americans
There are two seminal photo books on America. The first is (of course) Robert Frank’s The Americans. This is the book that has inspired hundreds of photographers including Paul Graham two travel the roads of America and photograph it. I too have also contemplated doing something similar but have been held back by the fear of pale imitation. The second photo book is Richard Avedon’s In The American West. Published in 1985 it was, like Robert Frank’s book very controversial. Avedon travelled the west for several years with a team of assistants; making highly stylized portraits of the people who caught his eye. From what I have read about the making of these pictures, Avedon seem to have chosen people on the margins of society and then he deleted the society itself by posing them in front of a white background.
Now it maybe a stretch to compare David Lynch’s fabulous new web project to the work of Frank and Avedon, but if it is, it is not too much of a stretch. David Lynch in his Interview Project has created the 21st century update to Avedon and Frank. He and his team of videographers drove 20,000 miles around the country interviewing people they would meet on the street. I have only listened to a few but already I have met a 24 year old woman who can’t be in any one place for too long, a stoic senior citizen waiting for his trailer to be repaired so he can move further into the desert, and a young man with a Christ complex.
While the interviews are fascinating the videos themselves, visually speaking, do not grab the eye or the heart the way a Robert Frank or Richard Avedon photograph does. But this is the way of the future for documentary photography. I am just waiting for someone to meld both the storytelling capabilities of video with the beauty and the essence of a well seen still photograph.
Now I know many people are going to point out great movies and videos (including many of Mr. Lynch’s films!) and to a point you maybe correct. But what I am talking about is the essence of a photograph; a thin slice of the space time continuum. The new imagery would capture a thicker slice of that continuum but it would still only be a contained instant, the sun rising, a smile appearing, a flower blowing in the breeze, a human being living, a life setting.