The photographer's options were limited to choice of subject matter and the matter of how to make the photograph. Obviously photographers like Callahan or Minor White were bringing two, among many, aesthetics to making photographs. Robert Frank, building on, among others, Louis Faurer and Bill Brandt, brought an attitude and way of working where the locus of the photograph moved from out there to a meeting place halfway between the exterior world and the inner world of the photographer. Frank's work from Peru and Europe prior to 1955-1956 was heading toward that synthesis. When Frank took up the still image again, whether as straight picture, collage or Polaroid, he moved closer to the interior. Of course the line of my thought is no more straight than the lines of Frank's work. It is an ongoing interplay between the world and his awareness. (Indeed, transformed into destiny.) It is that tension that keeps the pictures rich, open to an infinity of viewers, viewings, and meanings.
As Joel Sternfeld noted in a sweet recollection of his encounter with Frank in Göttingen, where both of them were checking proofs, this is likely Frank's last edition of The Americans. It is safe to say that there will be more editions of this book. Who can say if this is the last one before the pictures become historical, no longer a guide to here and now? When that time comes, as it must, the book can then be seen as Frank probably meant it all along—a sequence of photographs to be looked at for the pleasure of the eye, the mind, the heart.
Picture this: Frank is walking down a street in New York at twilight or maybe it is a country road. Imagine him as Chaplin's Tramp, cane in one hand, Leica in the other, sauntering down the road going somewhere else. Like the Tramp, he was here and showed us something about ourselves we might not otherwise have known. And he made us laugh.