Saturday, July 19, 2008

Robert Frank, Ruth Orkin, Young Photographers Award - Life Magazine

I’m a bit of a “collector” of old Life Magazines. Collector is in quotes because I don’t collect them in the usual sense. I buy ones covering interesting time periods, or ones that have unusual photographs. The way in which events are described and photographed are often as telling as the stories and images themselves. The biases and culture of the time are revealed. Oddly enough, sometimes the advertising can reveal how different people were.

Recently I picked up one from November 26th, 1951, which had the results of the “Young Photographers Contest.” The second and third prize winners were none other than Robert Frank and Ruth Orkin.
A bit surprising to find them in Life, but they certainly were both among the most interesting photographers of the era. One of the frequently quoted quotes of Frank appeared in this Life Magazine; "When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice." Robert Frank, LIFE (26 November 1951).

It was Ruth Orkin that I was most familiar with, since my Daughter and Son-in-Law had a wall size poster of “An American Girl in Italy.”

In this photograph, a pretty woman is walking through a group of men in Italy on a street corner. Her face is contorted in disgust as two of the men clutch their pants suggestively, while the others appear to be calling out to her. I read later that this was a friend of Orkin’s who she asked to walk down the sidewalk so she could get a photograph. The expressions really convey everything immediately.
The other photograph of hers that intrigued me was “Comic Book Readers.” In this case it’s the rapt attention of the children who have obviously been transported into another world.

Robert Frank is better known, and his book The Americans is perhaps what he is best known for. The photo I linked to is one of my favorites. I won’t attempt to interpret this photo, but I do like how the figure on the right loses identity to the waving flag.

I bought the magazine just based on the cover, and had no idea these two photographer were amongst the winners until I started paging through it.

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