The Unhappy Many

The Unhappy Many

THE AMERICANS: Photographs by Robert Frank, introduction by Jack Kerouac. Grove Press. 1959.

Shortly before Joe Hill was executed by the state of Utah, he requested that his ashes be scattered in every state of the union, except Utah. That state, he said, he would not want to be found dead in. One’s first response to The Americans, a book of photographs by Robert Frank (with an introduction by Jack Kerouac), is to extend Hill’s sentiments to the whole country. Here, in a country capable of vastly enlarging and beautifying the material life of its people, is a culture that not only produces an avalanche of dime-store trivialities but has succeeded in conditioning the population to accept them. Frank’s camera has caught Americans in offguard moments—a choice way to see what persons who are subjected to an ethos of production and distribution for profits really look like.

These photographs reveal Americans looking bored, lonely, waiting (for nothing), crowded amidst the rubbish of a high-geared industrial society, thrown together in incongruous relationships and settings.

America possesses a sort of double life—a vast commercial squalor on the one hand and an actual physical and potenti...

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