Jason Eskenazi, a photographer, worked for a time as a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum. For two months in 2009 he arranged to get himself assigned to the galleries housing the exhibition based on Robert Frank’s seminal book The Americans. As he recognized photographer friends visiting the show, he began querying them about the images from the book that meant most to them. After quitting his job, he continued to reach out to photographers, some well-known, most not.
The result is a compendium of these short commentaries printed without images entitled The Americans List. It is necessary to know The Americans, or to have the book handy, while perusing this slender little volume, but most photographers have seen and assimilated Frank’s work at some level. Most have at least one image that stands out for them, and I am no exception.
View from hotel room window, Butte, Montana, 1956 — photograph by Robert Frank
I think of Robert Frank’s The Americans as a road film that takes us sweeping across the landscape from one scene to another, a series of glimpses, anecdotes, gestures, faces, places, jump cuts, disjunctions, jarring, restive movement from one point to the next. There is no story, but thousands of possible stories.
View from hotel window, Butte, Montana:
I wake up from a dead sleep. Can’t tell what time of day, the light dull, the air thick with copper dust, the distant growl of machines. They are digging, devouring the earth, and they’d gladly eat the town alive if they could, human bodies and their thrown-up shelters and shops, inconvenient constructions, in the way of the divine right of power, of electricity speeding through wires.
I am traveling, on the run to be honest, took the car, left my wife behind. I am standing naked in the window staring through the flimsy curtains at the dark sullen town. It’s the end of the world. But I’m happy. I’m free — for the moment.