| America the Beautiful?
After finishing my inquiry two essay, a research essay about The Americans and how the process of “projection” helps to explain the negative reviews given by Americans of the time period, I am proud to say that I accomplished many goals. In doing this essay I managed my time extremely wisely, I organized my essay not only so that it flowed, but also to avoid the standard five paragraph essay, and I explored my vocabulary and voice. Each of these feats were difficult and things that I personally wanted to develop and grow on as a writer. In regards to my time management, I found that with this essay I paced myself extraordinarily well. Usually, I am the typical student who waits until the last minute to “pop out” a sub-par essay. However, this time around, I worked on this essay many days before hand, even during spring break. When I had free time around my dorm, I would make the goal to do one paragraph of my essay. Through this I was able to get my essay done and not simply submit, but edit and redo parts of a draft. Another notable mention about my inquiry two essay is my organization. Partially due to the amount of time I had to work on this essay, given the time allotted by the professor and my improved management of time, I was able to explore different ways to organize my paper. I was able to read it through many times and move paragraphs to aid in the “flow” of the overall piece. I think that I did a really good job and I think this may be one of the most organized essays I have ever written, which is exciting because I have always struggled with organization. And finally, because I had a lot of time to work on this essay, I got a chance to experiment with my voice and vocabulary. I didn’t want to change my voice, but I did want to attempt to improve it. Strengthen my vocabulary and add larger words, without sounding pretentious. I think I succeeded in this in that my essay still sounds like me, but I managed to incorporate better words and wording.
“A slashing and bitter attack on U.S. institutions”; “A Degradation of a Nation!”; “a sad poem for sick people”(Lane). This is only a small sampling of the negative reviews ensuing from the publishing of Robert Franks, The Americans. Upon the release of The Americans in The United States, the country was propelled into a “flying frenzy”, offended and fuming from the audacious material captured forever in film. Yet this book was first released in Paris, France and was not only a popular buy, but was exalted as innovative and inspiring art. How and why can a book, pervaded with the same images, be so contrarily viewed? The process “projection”, in which human beings interpret, relate, and respond to photos, and the repressed denial felt by Americans faking the “cookie cutter” ideal of 1950s America, offers insight and a possible solution as to why the American retort is exponentially more cross than the reactions of other countries.
The Swiss born Robert Frank came to America in 1947, arriving in the well-known city of New York, New York.
He had an idea and dream, applied for a loan, and set off on his journey of unveiling the truth of life in America. Robert Frank wanted to venture on the roads of America with only his camera, observing and documenting the raw, unedited citizens within. He didn’t have them pose in any specific way, nor did he stage any scene. He merely saw and snapped.
Frank took over twenty-seven thousand pictures as he zigzagged from coast to coast. From the original twenty-seven thousand, he managed to narrow down to only one thousand pictures those he felt were successful in portraying the “true” America. Clearly, one thousand pictures are too enormous for one book and publishing this many photos would be detrimental to the overall impact of his work. This being said, he then “spread them across the floor of his studio and tacked them to the walls for a final edit. Out of a year and a half of work, Frank chose just 83 images” (Cole). These eighty-three photos, bearing a one-sentence caption of a title, place, and date, revealed America in a light never seen before, or at least a light that until then had remained ignored. From cover to cover, The Americans ensnared not only the faces of strangers, but he put on film the unspoken plights of The United States, the racial tensions segregating the country, and the obligatory stereotypes of the 1950s.
Retrospectively, the 1950s are regarded as prosperous times. Posters and T.V. shows portrayed the lives of this decade as homely, sweet, and structured. Women had their “belonged” places in the kitchen and homes and were leaving the workforce, men were returning from war, back into the swing of a day-to-day job, the wealthy were relocating to the suburbs, crowded with the common “cookie cutter” houses of the decade. Everything was great...or so they chose to believe. This conception, this fantasy, polluted the minds of America, filling it with the illusion that one must fit this stereotype. Anyone or anything different was swept “under the rug” and their existence was ignored. As our banner proudly boasts, we are the “land of the free”, we are America and proud. Our reputable reputation was vital and treasured.
With the cold war, not only was fear brought to our country, but competition as well. As one source states, “1945 marked the beginning of the Cold War. With this came the increased emphasis on consumerism and physical attractiveness in the United States. We began to produce more consumer goods and believed we had “better looking”, "feminine" women than Russia. The ideology of the Cold War had an important impact on U.S domesticity, affecting such things as the design of suburban houses to relations between the sexes...the baby boom and feminine mystique were direct responses to the Cold War and to the anxieties it created” (Salvino). America didn’t strive for mediocrity, as a people they strove to be the best. However, America had its predicaments, whether they were acknowledged or not. One-fifth of the United States, a population of 150,697,361 citizens, was living under the poverty line; meaning 30,139,473 people were living day-to-day trying to simply get by (U.S. Census Bureau). With the majority of the population craving to keep the image of America ideal, they chose to remain ignorant to these citizens and their very presence. Until Robert Frank opened their eyes to the very truth they tried to conceal.
In view of the fact that The Americans was published in the 1950s, it is simple for one to speculate the reason for why this book made the impact it did. As stated previously, the 1950s were changing times and physical appearance and staying in the “norm” of the time was vital in order to have acceptance. Researchers do not struggle to connect events such as these to explain The Americans and the reactions it arose. The anger explicitly expressed is due to Americans seeing for the first time what they elected not to see. However, this is just the tip of an iceberg of research that could be done.
One cannot simply take hostilities and happenings from the time period and use them to elucidate the negative feedback from Americans towards this book. Although that is a part of the explanation, its compulsory to explore and study photojournalism and how people interpret photos to better understand how occurrences in the1950s played a part in the infamous American reviews. A book called Photojournalism: Principles and Practices, by Keith P. Sanders, goes into detail about the approach to photo interpretation in relation to The Americans. Sanders suggests that “What a photograph ‘means’ to a person is the result of a complex interaction between the photograph and the person’s prior experiences and perceptions.” (Sanders 126). This process that Sanders addresses is referred to as “projection”. To put this concept simply, “projection” is where a person subconsciously uses past experiences, sensations, and thoughts to interpret and react to ambiguous photos, such as those represented in The Americans. This act of “projection” is frequently used in a psychological test termed the Thematic Apperception Test. This test, originally done by psychologists and students at the Harvard Psychological Clinic(Frey 2001), where people are shown ambiguous photos and told to write for ten minutes in order to create a story of what is going on in the photo. After the examination, the individuals were asked questions about their past experiences and memories. People who responded negatively to these photos tended to voice that they didn’t have any negative experiences relating to the subject matter displayed, but after some “digging” researchers found that the subconscious of these individuals reveals repressed negativity, directly related to these photos, repressed by the brain.
This act of “projection” adds a new element to research about the work of Robert Frank. As opposed to stating that the correlation between the events of the time period and the rejection to this book is a direct result from the negativity surrounding the states, one should think of it more as Americans subconsciously channeling the distresses of the decade, evoked by the pictures from Robert Frank. Americans were living in a “perfect” world to help cope with the drama of the world and to exert the beauty of our country. Once Robert Frank revealed the overlooked aspects of the country to its residents, suppressed anger and rage was unleashed in forms of venomous reviews. Perhaps “America the Beautiful” was not as “beautiful” as once assumed.
"1950 United States Census." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 03 Jan. 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.
Cole, Tom. "'Americans': The Book That Changed Photography." NPR. NPR, 14 Feb. 2009. Web. 3 Mar. 2013.
Frey, Rebecca J. "Thematic Apperception Test." Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. N.p.,n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2013.
Lane, Anthony. "Road Show." Editorial. The New Yorker 14 Sept. 2009: n. pag. The New Yorker. 14 Sept. 2009. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.
Salvino, Bianca. "1950-1960." 1950-1960. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.
Sanders, Keith P. “Research in Photojournalism,” in Cliftin C Edom, Photojournalism: Principles and Practices (Dubuque William C. Brown. 1976). p. 126
Henry A. Murray, Explorations in Personality. (New York: John Wiley and Sons. 1938). p. 531
Frank, Robert. The Americans. Gottingen: Steidl, 2008..
Editorial Team's Note
In this effective cultural/historical Analysis, Beasy Jennison offers an insightful analysis of a visual text by examining its reception during the time and place in which it was created. By looking at the historic and cultural context of 1950s America, Jennison notes why the work of Robert Franks might have been so negatively received in one location, despite its positive reviews in other countries. In addition to providing an astute research-based analysis of the psychology of a nation within a particular cultural/historic context, Jennison’s work is organized and focused, offering an effective argument that flows and transitions well throughout. This paper also brings up questions that may be applied to other contexts: How are values defined by a culture in a particular time and place? In what ways might norms be critiqued or analyzed? How might this provide a means of interrogating other works that are negatively – even violently – received within their cultural/historic setting?