In post-war American photography, there is one particular photobook widely recognized as the most important, a photobook that still influences photographers today: Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’.
Published in the 1950s, Frank’s street photography differed from the photo-journalism and documentary style spearheaded by ‘LIFE’ and other magazines of that era. His personal approach in photographing the daily life of ordinary Americans was an experiment that helped advance the art of photography beyond commonly held conceptions of the time.
But there was another photographer who captured American streetlife in a similar fashion to Frank, and he did it more than ten years before Frank began shooting The Americans in 1955. His name was Louis Farrer. He and Robert Frank were close friends, almost like brothers — they even shared the same darkroom to develop their photographs. They influenced each other and eventually ushered in a new era of street photograph.
Robert Frank, who moved to New York from Switzerland, and Louis Faurer, who came from Philadelphia, met in New York in 1947. They began a deep friendship that lasted throughout their lives. Faurer possessed a masterful photographic skill, even earning him words of praise from Walker Evans. He once summarised his method in the following way (with the modesty of a true master): ‘The perfect technique is one that your subject will never notice.’ It is easy to imagine that Robert Frank, eight years Fauer’s junior, learned a lot from his excellent skill and artistic sense.
To give one example, Faurer’s photograph of the Times Square at night, an image even lauded by William Klein, was very difficult to achieve with contemporary photographic equipment and which justly deserves its recognition as a photograph that was ahead of its time.
Further, the image of the photobook cover above immediately draws up comparisons with Diane Arbus’ famous photographs of twins. But Faurer was there 20 years earlier.
Although he left behind wonderful photographs expressing his own aesthetics, why has Faurer failed to achieve a greater popularity, at least in his own country America? Perhaps it was because he did not publish any decisive photobooks during his lifetime, as Robert Frank did, or because his photography lacked the original novelty of Klein’s or Weegee’s. But there is no doubt that Faurer’s images from the 1940s and 1950s possess a quality that surpasses the constraints of time.
In any case, when I consider that at the roots of a famous work like “The Americans” lies the influence of a mostly unknown master photographer, it brings up a rare, special feeling.
Taka Kawachi has extensive international experience, having graduated from the Academy of Art University of San Francisco, to then working in New York City as a book editor and curator for 15 years. Returning to Japan in 2011, he held the position of Director for the Amana Photo Collection, overseeing the development of the company’s acquisitions of more than 550 Japanese photographic works in four years. In 2016, Kawachi published his first book Art no Iriguchi (Entrance to the Arts, on American Art) followed by his second publication on European Art released in the fall of the same year. His publications illustrate his experiences of art and photography and offers readers an opportunity to engage with the history and subjects of both regions from his unique point of view. He is currenlty the Director of the Overseas Division of Kyoto’s Benrido, working to disseminate the classic and rare photographic process of Collotype, and produced portfolios of Saul Leiter and J.H. Lartigue, etc.