Robert Frank–Poet with a Camera–Passes

Robert Frank, the master photographer who taught us to see photography and America anew, died on Monday in Inverness, Nova Scotia. He was 94.

Below, I reprise a former post on the this artistic giant:

The other day The New York Times covered the announcement of a treasure trove of images from the work of Robert Frank, one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century. The National Gallery of Art has released a comprehensive archive of Frank’s work, including contact sheets and work prints, much of it never before seen by the public. It all comes in advance of Frank’s 90th birthday, in November.

As The Times says in it’s Lens Blog:

The cover image for the U.S. edition of The Americans, Robert Frank’s epochal book, spoke volumes about the state of the nation in the mid-1950s. The tightly-cropped photo shows passengers in the windows of a New Orleans trolley assuming their place in the social order of the Jim Crow South — progressing from a black woman in the rear to white children and adults up front (slide 4).

The contact sheet that contained the image showed that Mr. Frank had photographed the city from multiple perspectives, but he ultimately selected the frame that most dramatically and symbolically captured New Orleans’ racial hierarchy. Learning this photo’s backstory would be impossible without the ability to view Mr. Frank’s contact sheet. Now, such important archival material, typically reserved for scholars and curators, is just a click away.

Born in 1924 in Zurich, Switzerland, Frank took pictures in Europe and South America during his early career, but it wasn’t until he crisscrossed the seductive roads of America that Frank felt he was finally making art with his lens. With his U.S. travels in the mid-1950s, his work reached a new level, and 83 of his road images were arranged into the book The Americans.

It’s no surprised that Jack Kerouac wrote the introduction to the first U.S. edition of The Americans. The 1959 edition raised eyebrows in the media for its brute black and white candor. But The Americans, like Kerouac’s own masterwork, On the Road, opened the door to the loneness of the country’s heart and spirit and, together, they inspired a generation of artists, musicians and thinkers.

It’s interesting how foreign image makers like Frank, Mechelangelo Antonioni (Zabriskie Point, 1970), Louis Malle (Atlantic City, 1980) are able to capture the essence of the land better than most native auteurs. In fact, with the stir made by The Americans, Frank was compared to America’s original outsider observer, Alexis de Tocqueville, whose 1835 book Democracy in America helped to define the young nation’s unique character (Is it what America brings to you or what you bring to her?).

I believe a great artist is a conduit for “place.” His subject somehow finds him, speaks through him. The artist ultimately “sees” through time as the French photographer Eugène Atget once described it. I believe such artists also see through other dimensions, some of which elude us, some of which speak through intersections of light and shadow, artifact and art, quietude and cacophony, moment and mystery.

It’s hard to describe The Americans. Language could illuminate it, could degrade it. Perhaps it’s like the stuff of dreams, the magic of which begins to disappear upon transfer to the conscious mind. So much spills from the bucket on its ascent from that deep, dark well.

I was surprised and pleased when I discovered Frank himself had linked the worlds of photography and poetry in his description of his work:

When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.

‘Poet in the City’: the Lost Gem

The following is from Mat Danks’ Excavation Tape Project, which attempts to unearth previously undiscovered musical gems:

Excavation Tapes #267: ‘Poet in the City’ by Allen Shadow

kks-album-cover Wow, this is dark. And very cool. Listen here.

It’s a creeping, haunting yomp over some brilliantly bleak, industrial clangy instrumentation. Perhaps, like a gothic take on John Cooper Clarke with some pretty obvious touchpoints of Nick Cave and Tom Waits.

It’s from a 2002 album called ‘King Kong Serende’ and a bit of digging into Allen Shadow (see his blog here) suggests he’s a bit of a renaissance man. His Twitter bio states: “Novelist Allen Shadow (aka Allen Kovler) is also a music artist, poet, journalist & PR pro (APR) who blogs on writing, music and politics.” Which is what we like here on the Excavation Tapes.

If this project is all about unearthing really interesting and brilliant material lost in the banal mainstream crossfire, then we’ve got ourselves a gem here.

–Mat Danks

Shadow’s NY Times Story Included in ‘Best of 2015’

The piece I wrote as part of the New York Times “Walking New York” feature last spring is included in the Times feature: “2015: Our Best Visual Stories and Graphics.” The feature is published in today’s online edition.

To find my piece, click here, scroll down to the “Walking New York” story and search “Kovler”. Or, even simpler, click here, to read it (it’s a short piece) on this blog. I wrote this one under my given name, Allen Kovler vs. my penname, Allen Shadow.
Times_Best_2015

‘Hell City’ TV Pilot is Finalist

My Hell City TV pilot was selected as a finalist in the 2015 World Series of Screenwriting competition. Based on my novel by the same name, the pilot was chosen in the TV Drama Pilot category.
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Winners and finalists were chosen from more than 700 submissions worldwide. The Hell City series is based on my novel, a literary thriller about a search for homegrown jihadists, with unforgettable characters and an undercurrent of longing for a lost America. The novel can be found on Amazon.

Shadow in Online Edition of The NY Times

Just to clarify, my story appears in the online version of the “Walking New York” Magazine feature in The Times, and doesn’t appear in the print edition. If you’re looking, click here and search “Kovler” in your browser to find it quickly.

NYT_Kovler

 

Shadow Published in New York Times

The New York Times published a piece I wrote as part of their Walking New York feature for this Sunday’s Magazine. In addition to a number of prominent writers, others were invited to submit a story of about 600 characters, and mine was one of few that made the cut.
NYT_Kovler
I wrote about a boyhood adventure along the Grand Concourse, in the Bronx:

The Grand Concourse, Near Tremont
By Allen Kovler (aka Allen Shadow)

At 13, my friend Sammy and I would hike up the Grand Concourse all the way to Mosholu Parkway on a hot, sunny Saturday, equipped as if on an explorer-worthy trek, cargo pants pockets stuffed with sundries, Army canteens smacking our hips as we marveled at the sights: the bric-a-brac stores on Burnside, the Loews Paradise, the bustle of Fordham Road, the eerie tranquility of Edgar Allan Poe’s cottage, the home for the blind. Exhausted, we’d mount a bus back, hanging from the windows, still thrilled.

Shadow to Read in Pueblo

I’ll be reading chapters from my second novel, “Puppet Girl” (now in progress), at the Pueblo Poetry Project, Wed., Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. The reading will be held at the Daily Grind Espresso Bar and Café, 209 S. Union Ave., Pueblo, Colorado.

The Historic Union Street, Pueblo, Colorado, the site of Shadow's reading.

The Historic Union Street, Pueblo, Colorado, the site of Shadow’s reading.

This will be the sixth time I’ve been the featured reader at the Pueblo Poetry Project, which is in its 35th year. I’ll also be reading poems from my series, “I’ll Have My Way With You, America,” which will be released as a chapbook in the future. Meanwhile, “Puppet Girl” is a sequel to my first novel, “Hell City.”

Joel Scherzer and Robbie Rubinstein, publishers at Quick Books in Pueblo, have published my poetry, beginning with the chapbook, “Harlem River Baby,” which was first released in 1984 (and is now going into its second printing). They also edited “Hell City” and are currently at work editing “Puppet Girl.”