Where were you when you first saw Robert Frank’s The Americans?
I first saw The Americans in 1967. I had bought the 30th anniversary edition of Popular Photography back in the town where I grew up - Dundee in Scotland - and had been intrigued by a David Vestal article on the essential photobooks, particularly two he mentioned - Walker Evans' American Photographs and John Szarkowski's The Photographer's Eye. I actually was able to order both books from my local bookstore, and that was it - epiphany time. It didn't take long for me to cotton on to The Americans, and that soon followed to get a place on my shelves, along with Paul Strand's Hebridean book (which I had seen in our local public library). An initial photobook collection of four books, but what books! I had the best possible photographic education from that great beginning.
What is the importance of The Americans to you?
As I say, it was a crucial part of my photographic education. I have to say that Walker remains my true love, probably because he was the first, but Robert is only a whisker behind. And I'm very aware of the relationship between Walker and Robert, and therefore between the two books. I remember vividly going to the opening of Tod Papageorge's show on the two books at Light Gallery - another revelation.
How has The Americans affected the way you practice or think about photography today?
The lesson of The Americans is that one must photograph with both intelligence and heart. Alan Trachtenberg said that American Photographs introduced 'difficulty' into photography - that means intelligence - and The Americans was just about the next book after Walker's to demonstrate that, though I also have a soft spot for Bill Klein's New York, which I think is still shamelessly underrated. But the primary thing for me about Frank's book is its intelligence. The intelligence inherent in the sequencing and the narrative, the intelligence and bravura of the individual pictures - they are awesome. And then there is the book's passion and heart, which never descends to bathos or sentimentality. For all my partiality to it, Walker's great book is flawed. The Americans is sheer, bloody perfection. I wish it a happy anniversary, and long may it remain in print.