I started very young at all of this, so things go back awhile. It was 1962 - I was 16.
It started with my first teacher Lisette Model a few years earlier, with the question “Mrs. Model, who was the greatest photographer who ever lived?”; a 14 year olds question. “Darling, that is not really the way to think about these things, but there was man named Atget, but you aren’t ready to understand him yet”. A perfect set up answer for a pain in the ass 14 year old. So I was off to the Weyhe bookstore on Lexington Ave. to buy my first serious photography book Atget from 1930. They still had a new copy for about $10 (32 years and they still hadn’t been able to sell them all), and Lisette was right, the little brown pictures of France from long ago made no sense to my New York brain. This was going to take a while.
Then two years later in 1962 Bruce Davidson was having weekly get togethers of photographers at his apartment. On one of those evenings he brought out a copy of The Americans. I only saw it for a minute but I knew this was something I had to look at seriously. Off to Wittenborns on Madison Ave., the best art book store in New York at the time. They had eight or ten, already out of print, copies to choose from, priced between $8.50 and $6.50. I chose the cheaper French edition, since I would not have any idea who that Kerouac guy was for a few more years.
The book stunned me. It made sense, it was the world I saw around me, or thought I had, until that moment. The pictures where sad, but full of grace and a strange sense of hope. The technique seemed just right, and since I was young and had nothing of a past hold on to, nothing radical. It was just perfect.
The book started everything.
Robert has since kept the sadness, but lost the grace. The book has its pages falling out
(worst photo book binding in history). I had a day, a few years later when the Atget hit like a lightning bolt, but that book had started it all.
Robert, thank you for 1962 and all the years since.