*By Devon Tincknell
For most Americans, the fifties are the quintessential decade of idealized, suburban perfection. Identical houses resting behind manicured lawns; father off to work while mother cooks and cleans; and everybody smiling in picturesque post-war bliss. It’s an image that was propagandized at the time and has since been entrenched further by nostalgia. But of course, not everyone in the fifties was living the suburban dream and their stories are often left out of the frame.
First published in 1958 in Paris, and released stateside the following year, Robert Franks’ The Americans documented those members of society who weren’t profiled in Life magazine. At first, Franks’ work was derided as a meaningless, messy, harsh look at America’s less flattering side but thanks to an introduction by Jack Kerouac, another proponent of the unseen side of the fifties, The Americans eventually gained traction and came to be concerned a classic work of photography. Present in stark, crisp black and white, the subjects and scenes exposed by Franks’ lens seem mundane at first, but that’s the idea. The Americans captures its titular subjects as they are, in the mundane moments of their lives, and thus presents them as they are, as opposed to how we might want to see them.