• Letter to Nathan Lyons (1971)
    Still from ABOUT US (1972) by VSW students and Robert Frank
    Robert Frank by Joan Lyons circa 1971
    Still from ABOUT US (1972) by VSW students and Robert Frank

    Letter to Nathan Lyons (1971)

    Robert Frank was indisputably one of the most influential media artists of our time. His work remains powerfully relevant in its ability to empathetically reflect the social struggles, cultural contradictions and human experiences of the working class. Frank’s 1958 book The Americans documented a journey through the United States by car, capturing the cultural anxiety and emotional energy of the nation in a sequence of 83 photographs (what Frank referred to as a “film on paper”). With The Americans, Frank established a visual vernacular that resonated with an emerging counterculture of artists, musicians and writers. In 1959 he collaborated with beat poets Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and painter/filmmaker Alfred Leslie on the groundbreaking film Pull My Daisy, an early masterpiece of independent filmmaking. 

  • Robert Frank with VSW students 1971

    Robert Frank with VSW students 1971

    About Us (1972)

    In 1971 Robert Frank was invited to conduct a workshop while on residency at VSW. Over a three month period, six students were tasked with re-interpreting the idea of the self-portrait to reflect the reality of the present. A true collaborator, Frank himself joins them as they attempt to break through the security patrol at Kodak headquarters, frolic on the hillside of the Cobbs Hill Reservoir, improvise an altercation with a gas station attendant, and gather in one of the students’ living rooms to drink, smoke and carry on. The resulting 38-minute film is a valuable portrait of a creative collaboration between artists, and a stimulating document of what Frank refers to as “the chaos of the present.” This film was released in 1972 and preserved through a grant from the National Film Preservation Board in 2018. For information on renting the 16mm print or viewing this film, contact Tara Nelson, Curator of Moving Image Collections: taranelson@vsw.org.