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The Photographic Portfolio Book

Posted in PHOT 162 by Paul Turounet on February 17, 2009


© Robert Frank, selection from Guggenheim 340 contact sheet and The Americans (Grove Press edition, 1959).

Looking In – Robert Frank’s The Americans (Expanded Edition) published by the National Gallery of Art | Steidl provides an in-depth look into the making of the book, including reproductions of the original contact sheets, a section on comparing the sequential structure of each published edition as well as a map and chronology.


Concise Statement of Project

To photograph freely throughout the United States, using the miniature camera exclusively.  The making of a broad, voluminous picture record of things American, past and present.  This project is essentially the visual study of a civilisation and will include caption notes;  but it is only partly documentary in nature: one of its aims is more artistic than the word documentary implies.


“The photographing of America” is a large order – read at all literally, the phrase would be an absurdity.

The uses of my project would be sociological, historical and aesthetic.  My total production will be voluminous, as is usually the case when the photographer work with miniature film.  I intend to classify and annotate my work on the spot, as I proceed.  Ultimately the file I shall make should be deposited in a collection such as the one in the Library of Congress.  A more immediate use I have in mind is both book and magazine publication.

– excerpts from a transcript of Robert Frank’s application for a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship in 1954 (from Looking In – Robert Frank’s The Americans, 2009)


Shortly after being awarded a Guggenheim fellowship of $3,600 in May 1955, Robert Frank spent most of the following year traveling and photographing throughout the United States, including in the South and southeastern coast, California and the upper – northern states.   While in California, he developed film with photographer he was staying with, including famed Life magazine photographer Wayne Miller.  In the summer of 1956, he returned to New York and began the following working process in producing The Americans:


  • Developed and made contact sheets of 767 rolls of film shot
  • Edited the contact sheets andmade 8″ x 10″ work prints of approximately 1,000 images which were grouped by subject
  • During the winter and spring of 1957, continued to refine the selection and sequence with a preliminary sequence of 92 photographs and made an 8″ x 9-5/8″ maquette
  • Within months, the sequence is edited to 85, and then 83 photographs, which will become the final selection in the initial printing of Les Américains (France, 1958) and Gli Americani (Italy, 1959)
  • In late fall 1959, the first English edition of The Americans with Jack Kerouac’s introduction is published by Grove Press



The working process of going from 767 rolls of film shot to 1,000 work prints to a selection of 83 photographs sequenced in a maquette to the ultimate publication of The Americans was not only involved, but necessary, as evidenced by the tremendous impact of the work within the history of photography and photographic books.  To date, The Americans has been published 9 different times, including the latest edition from Steidl to mark the 50th anniversary of its publication.


The making of a maquette (also known as a book dummy) is vital to developing a conceptual, aesthetic and technical framework and structure in developing and producing a photographic book.  It provides a physical model of how the book will work as an object to showcase a sequence of photographs and the photographer’s conceptual concerns.  In producing the maquette, the photographer can consider the seqeuential relationship of each image, scale as well as technical production and proofing considerations.



In preparation of the final portfolio book project, produce a photographic book maquette (book dummy) to scale with a minimum of 10 photographs.  In developing your working process, it may be necessary to make contact sheets and/or edited contact sheets as well as work prints to use in determining a structure, sequence and page layouts to work out production considerations.  For more information on developing a working process that works best for your practice, click on Developing A Working Process.

In preparing the maquette, it will be necessary to complete the following:

  • Determine the final image sequence and book structure
  • Scale pieces of paper to appropriate size and orientation for book size being considered
  • Scale and print images for how they will appear on the page – images can be printed on paper sized as it would appear in the portfolio book
  • Design cover and page layouts, including title page, image pages, introduction and/or afterword text pages, additional text pages, captions blank pages and copyright information
  • Typography considerations, including font, sizing, color, leading (space between sentences) and tracking (space between individual characters)



For the Final Project critique, please present the following:

A Photographic Portfolio Book that incorporates the following considerations:

  • Produced to represent scale and orientation of the photographic book for the final project
  • Minimum of ten (10) photographic images that reflect focused attention on a conceptual concern/interest/curiosity through your photographic vision and sense of technical execution and craftsmanship
  • Designed pages to reference book title, name of author, introduction and/or afterword text pages, additional text pages, captions, blank pages and copyright information

See Course Calender for due date.



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