In early 2007, I planned to cross the USA in the footsteps of the Swiss photographer Robert Frank. I was tempted by the idea of capturing with a camera, like he did half a century earlier, the Zeitgeist of modern America. At first, I did not know the exact route Frank had taken, but his pictures should give me guidance along my own road-trip.
I decided to start my tour in New York City on September 11. Upon arrival, however, the idea of creating a "remake" of Robert Frank’s portfolio The Americans, fifty yeas later, appeared absurd to me. Precisely at "ground zero", the former World Trade Center site, I grew aware of the unfeasibility of such an endeavour in our time. To start with, it is impossible to document what had happened at this place six years earlier. How to visualize the absence of things? And why should my American pictures be of more documentary value than any one else's who would pursue the same objective? That day, I was overwhelmed by heavy doubts. In our epoch, it is indeed getting ever more difficult to leave the beaten tracks. The world is constantly covered by satellites, video-surveillance, traffic cameras, webcams, and all sorts of devices that record reality 24/24. Every second, countless tourists, amateur and professional photographers, smartphone users, selfie producers, etc., capture fragments of America, and thus make the reservoir grow bigger and bigger. Is it useful to add some more? Should we not just tap into the huge tank of existing images, easily available in the Internet?
Finally I did not completely renounce to my project. I just needed to figure out a method for producing documents that could appear acceptable to me. For instance, impose myself a strict protocol for the photo shoots on the road. I decided to proceed as follows: attach a digital camera to the rear mirror of the car, and program it so that a picture is automatically generated every hour. The choice of time could not be random: the program had to start at 8:48 a.m. and finish 12 hours later. 8:48 in the morning was precisely the moment when, on September 11, 2001, the first terrorist plane hit the World Trade Centre in New York. One picture should be selected by the end of every day : this was the only subjective action that I would allow myself. The trip across the USA had to last 83 days, as Frank’s book contained 83 shots.
Of course, such a constraining approach to photography, it can be argued, is at the opposite of the creative freedom of Robert Frank. But for me, it was a way to open up to a new path: literature. Indeed, Retour au point de non-retour has become a literary work - based on arbitrarily generated street footage of America - as much as it is a photographic project.
"Writing" the pictures instead of showing them, allowed me to blur, as I liked, the boundaries between reality and fiction, the observed and the imagined America. This travelogue is also the diary of an artistic crisis, and how to eventually come to grips with it, at a time where everything seems to have been said and shown.
In the writing process, I was guided by the vision of an artist – Robert Frank – who, to my mind, was equally tormented by creative and existential doubts.
By choice, no photos are reproduced in the book.
On May 27, 2007, the Google Street View service was launched in San Francisco, starting to take automatically generated photos of all America (and later the world).
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Concept and Images © Carine Krecké 2007-2008
Travelogue © Carine Krecké 2008