….by Robert Frank, at one time, belonged to my friend, Garry Winogrand. The “TC” before my signature, in the upper right hand corner, meant that this copy had passed to Garry’s friend and printer, Thomas Consilvio, after Garry’s death in 1984. I inherited it after Thomas’ death in 1991. Which brings us to my subject, what makes a photograph “iconic?” Why do we recognize, even from a distance, as I once experienced, looking through the window of a closed photography gallery, that an image is a “Kertesz” or a “Cartier-Bresson” or an ”Arbus?” Why does the shape of a subject, like Kertesz’ figure on the couch in “Satiric Dancer” enable us to know who shot it? Or, that when we pass a draped car, we are reminded of Frank’s image, “Covered car - Long Beach, California” from "The Americans"? What makes a photograph “Gurskyesque?”
In a way, recognition is simply in the eye of the beholder. Certainly the photographer was not thinking of making an icon when the image was shot, with the exception, possibly, of Ansel Adams shooting a full moon in Mexico. Currently, a traveling exhibition of photographs by Robert Frank, originating from the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., organized by Curator Sara Greenough, gives us, the viewer, another opportunity to understand what makes an iconic image. Running through August 23, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, “Looking In: Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ ” celebrates the 50th anniversary of this seminal book’s publication. If you are in the Bay Area this summer, you might want to take a look…And, in Los Angeles, images from the permanent collection of “The Americans” can be viewed at the Museum of Contemporary Art, along with films by Robert Frank, through October 19, 2009.