Saturday, 16 July 2011

Writing Analytically Exercise: Research and analyse

Exercise: Research and analyse

After analysing my own photograph I had to write an analytical account of a famous image provided in the course materials. I chose Robert Frank, London Street 1951. Researching the background information I had to take care to include only facts and not copy the opinions of any critics. Tricky when you share the same opinion and then have to find a way to re-word it after they have used the best terminology and syntax. Using the analysis checklist my essay can be up to 1000 words. My word count came to about 900, I think I've covered it all and don't want to make things up or pad it out.

Probably done it to death now and over thought too many things, written about 5 draft versions, each time I cut stuff out, add other bits, wonder if the points I have put in are relevant to this one image. Tricky to find info on this one, and once you have read about others or seen it in context with the rest of the work it was then difficult to think about first impressions etc.

Was useful to find this website about writing essays

"How to Write an Essay -- 10 Easy Steps"

I applied some of the ideas, cutting out irrelevant waffle. I have a tendency to link things so they flow and read 'nicely' but then when you look at the sentences they are just they went... hope now everything there has a point. The brief does give a 10 point checklist but it can be adapted...hopefully the extra included has pertinent points to make about the image or how Frank works to give an idea of why/how the image was created.

Reviewing my essay checking points

London Street 1951, Robert Frank


Frank, R. London Street,1951, Museum no. Ph.1229-1980 Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum.

Robert Frank was born in Switzerland in 1924. In the early 1950’s Frank travelled round Europe with his 35mm Leica camera, during which time he set out to capture the streets and culture of post-war London. An investigation of the obvious class system, Frank (1958) tells us that Bill Brandt influenced this early work.

London Street, 1951, produced as a silver gelatin print approximately 8x12 in size, is a good example of Frank’s black and white, grainy observation of everyday life. The influence of Bill Brandt’s The English at Home (1936) and his examination of the social classes can clearly be noted. Frank’s images are a cross between the genre of Street and Social Documentary photography.

Frank is widely recognised for his series The Americans (1959) but  London Street, 1951 was not published in book form until nearly twenty years after it was taken. Robert Frank, The Lines of My Hand, Yugensha, 1972, p. 51

Street photography is unplanned;  Frank would walk the streets looking for situations or characters to photograph, reacting instinctively to that which was presented to him. Frank (1958) tells us that ‘My photographs are not planned or composed in advance and I do not anticipate that the onlooker will share my viewpoint.’

There is a proof-sheet in the book London/Wales Scalo, Zurich, 2003, pp. 10-11 which shows he took photographs of the hearse from many different angles, originally shooting from the front before he stepped sideways, capturing the street-cleaner perfectly framed and the young girl running off into the mist, a mixture of skill and luck; timing being an all important factor with street photography.

This simple shot of Belsize Crescent, London, at first glance may seem to have captured nothing of interest, but once you actually look into the photograph there is so more to see. He is quoted as saying ‘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’ (Frank 1958) meaning that you have to read it more than once to understand and appreciate the content.

The first thing that struck me when looking at this image, was it's composition and how instantly recognisable it is as a typical London street.The damp, foggy streets are indicative of typical English weather and the smog that pervaded London during this era. This would have provided a soft diffused light with reduced contrast.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be sufficient information available to be able to analyse the technical details of this image. Frank used a 35mm Leica with either a 28mm or 35mm lens, but I can't say for certain which he used here. Neither do I know what aperture/shutter speed/film was employed. I could speculate based on the amount of grain, depth of field, angle of view, architectural verticals and the amount of/lack of blur with regards to the running figure. It is a grainy image, quite a wide field of view, the verticals are straight and the little girl is frozen mid step but to say how it was achieved would be pure guesswork.

The image contains tried and tested compositional techniques; when dividing the frame the elements fall neatly into the ‘rule of thirds’ and even better the ‘Fibonacci ratio’ as shown below.

Figure 1

Figure 2
In an interview for swissinfo in 2009, Sarah Greenhough , head of the photography collections at the National Gallery of Art Washington DC, stated ‘Frank always wanted to be recognised by Life magazine. For years Robert Frank's photos were refused by Life and bought by European publications.’ This suggests an intended editorial use.

The row of terraced houses provide a repeat pattern until they tail off into the misty background, the diagonals of the roof tops, road and the wall all assist with leading your eye into the frame. The window/door of the hearse provides frames within frames and the characters supply the human element which help complete the scene. This obvious formality appears to have been lost by the time he completed The Americans (1959) having been influenced by Walker Evans (Papageorge 1981).

Studying the figure of the young girl who has her back to the camera, running away, this is another element taking the viewer into the photograph. The fact that she is running provides movement in what otherwise would be a very still frame. She stands out, the only energetic and vibrant element contained within the photograph; a counterpoint to the stillness and sombreness of the hearse, a sharp contrast to the pale misty background. Being black and white the image conveys the atmosphere of grey, dull, dampness really well, and there are no bright colours to distract you from the smaller detail.

The wet street allows there to be a reflection on the pavement which adds further interest. The eye is then led around the photograph to the coalmen making a delivery, also a typical event in daily London life during this period, and finally down to the street cleaner, beautifully framed by the window of the open hearse door.

Frank (1961) stated:

Black and white are the colors (sic) of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected. Most of my photographs are of people; they are seen simply, as through the eyes of the man in the street.

Frank's intention was to capture post war London and the different social classes. I feel he has been successful. It is a scenario which was being repeated across London being regularly observed by the man in the street. The smog sums up that period in time, the child symbolises hope and the energy of life, the hearse reminding us no matter what we achieve in life we all share the same fate, while the men represent the working classes going about the daily grind.

The image contains definite compositional techniques, movement, human interest, a narrative and a strong sense of time and place.

References and online resources

Bonzom, M. (2009) Seeing America through the lens of Robert Frank [online]. Website. Available from: [Accessed 1 June 2011]

Christie’s Bid Department (2005) Frank,R. London Street , 1951 [online]. Lot 38/Sale 1502 Christies Website. Available from: [Accessed 1 June 2011]

Essay Reviews (2010) Robert Frank [online] on Art. Available from: [Accessed 1 June 2011]

Frank, R. (1951) London Street, 1951 [Photograph, Gelatin silver print, printed 1979] [online image]. Place Victoria and Albert Museum. Available from: [Accessed June 1 2011]

Frank, R. (1958) Robert Frank a statement. (1958) U.S. Camera Annual, p115 [online]. Cited in Readings Robert Frank a statement 1958 Jerome Nevins Website. Available from: [Accessed 1 June 2011]

Frank R. (1961) Robert Frank Interview pages 20-22 of Aperture, vol. 9, no. 1 (1961). Cited in Robert Frank - Quotes (2010) [online] Photoquotes Website. Available from [Accessed 1 June 2011]

Impey, L. [n,d,] Bill Brandt a selection of images with commentary [online]. Lawrence Impey Website. Available from: [Accessed 1 June 2011]

Papageorge, T (1981) Walker Evans and Robert Frank: an essay on influence [online]. Scribd Website. Available from: [Accessed 1 June 2011]

Figures 1& 2 produced in Photoshop using the image Frank, R. London Street ,1951, Museum no. Ph.1229-1980 Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum


London Street
1951 was chosen as Robert Frank is better known for his The Americans series and I thought it would be enlightening to analyse work he was producing before this recognition. There were a few problems in finding factual technical information and a lot of time was spent researching the internet and borrowing books. Even the books I looked at didn’t say much more than the information already gleaned from the web.

Due to this the analysis was based more on reading the photograph itself. This was challenging as I could speculate on a lot of elements but these would not be fact.

A very useful exercise in many ways, it has:
  • Shown me how photographers influence each other-Brandt influencing Frank
  • Indicated how photographers’ work evolves over time-knowing it was Frank’s earlier work
  • Emphasised that decisions made influence the shot i.e. time of day, camera/lens choice
  • Made me think more carefully about the composition/planning of my own shots, learning what techniques/elements are successful or approaches I visually prefer
  • Provided a framework with which I can approach looking at images
  • Given me the chance to practice writing a formal analysis/essay

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