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Frank v. Met

A close friend (who I know reads this notebook) recently suggested that I might perhaps consider updating these pages a bit more than I do. That maybe, just maybe, I’m thinking a little bit too much about this, and that current, if not perfect, content trumps extended essays. And that perhaps everyone might find the whole exercise more enjoyable if I clicked “Submit” with a bit more alacrity. Shocking, I know.

To that end, I’ll attempt to catch up with the Robert Frank exhibit at The Metropolitan. The subject is far less than timely, as the exhibition ended on January 3, but Better Half and I did manage to catch it before it left town, and it was flipping terrific. Basically it was everything from The Americans (seminal work of photographic brilliance, and less interestingly, the meat of the 2nd movement of Symphony No. 1) in gorgeously giant prints, laid out in order with comments about the images from Frank and the curators. But the gems of the exhibit weren’t the photos from the book, which I can basically see on the inside of my eyeballs at this point … it was the rows and rows of Frank’s negatives and proofs — evidence of what didn’t make it into the book, and completely thrilling insight into his process of choosing exactly which photo of the series of almost identical shots was the one he wanted.

My take-home favorite part of the exhibit was actually non-photographic: there were some letters and correspondence in a case (Frank apparently kept an epistolary relationship with Walker Evans), where the curators had laid out Kerouac’s typewritten draft of his foreword for the book. Like the On the Road scrolls, it looked drugged and feverish, like it was banged out in a sweaty fit of overnight inspiration. And yet, the pencil corrections and insertions were detailed and exacting. I love this. Evidence that an artist we collectively like to believe feels rather than thinks, is actually…thinking. Really, really hard.

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