Covering Photography is a website resource and archive that explores the use of photographs by well-known art and documentary photographers on the covers of poetry, fiction and non-fiction books. Its purpose is to study the relationship between the history of photography and book cover art and design. The use of these familiar photographs as illustrations provides an alternative and sometimes surreal view of twentieth century photographic art. All of this is the brainchild of Karl Baden, a photographer and teacher at Boston College, who continues to maintain and update this important archive.
What follows is fascinating look at how Robert Franks’ photographs have been used on an assortment of nine book covers, including the first publication of any photograph from The Americans as the cover of the Evergreen Review (no. 4).
Evergreen Review (no. 4)
Publisher: Grove Press Publication Date: 1957 Designer: Not listed
Image Title: Newburgh, New York Book Genre: Literary Magazine
Those having some depth of acquaintance with Robert Frank's work will likely be familiar with this early cover of the Evergreen Review. It predates any of his commercially published books and may be the first American instance of his photography found on the cover of a publication. None of Frank's photographs are reproduced inside the magazine, nor can essays about him or even biographical data be found. The cover image, made at a motorcycle rally in Newburgh, NY, serves purely as illustration and metaphor. But metaphor for what?
Evergreen Review, founded by Barney Rosset in 1957, was an important (possibly the most important) literary venue for work by and about the Beats, and what would become the counterculture of the sixties. In addition to displaying Robert Frank's photograph, this issue's cover informs us that writing by Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Jack Kerouac can be found inside. Frank maintained close friendships with many of the Beat writers, and was a collaborator on films and related projects. Kerouac wrote the introduction to 'The Americans', from which the image on this cover was taken.
In 1957, the motorcycle rider, mythologized by Marlon Brando and Peter Fonda in films ranging from 'The Wild Ones' to 'Easy Rider', symbolized the quintessential American Rebel, an apt avatar for the rumblings social and political unrest yet to come. KB
Evergreen Review (no. 15, Nov-Dec 1960)
Publisher: Grove Press Publication Date: 1960 Designer: Richard Brodney
Image Title: Political Rally, Chicago 1956 Book Genre: Literary Magazine
Another early Evergreen Review cover with a Robert Frank image from 'The Americans'. This photograph was made at a rally in Chicago for then presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, who ran unsuccessfully against five-star General and former Commander of Allied Forces during World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Frank's image seems haphazardly made, almost anti-compositional, with all it's information coming in from the edges. The tuba player becomes a comically alien hybrid of man and machine; anonymous and isolated, but no less so than the figures on either side of him. As a reference to the American electoral process, the image is funny, frightening and sad.
The date of this issue, November 1960, puts it's publication precisely one year after the preseidential election that followed Eisenhower v. Stevenson, in which Eisenhower's Vice-President, Richard M. Nixon, lost by a very small margain to the Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy. KB