Learn From the Masters

8 Lessons Robert Capa Has Taught Me About Street Photography

Robert Capa / FRANCE. Normandy. June 6th, 1944. Landing of the American troops on Omaha Beach
© Robert Capa / Magnum Photos. FRANCE. Normandy. June 6th, 1944. Landing of the American troops on Omaha Beach

Robert Capa is one of the greatest photographers to have ever lived. When he was still alive, he was proclaimed as “The Greatest War-Photographer in the World”. He captured some of the most intense wars during his time, including the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), Chinese resistance to the Japanese invasion (covered in 1938), the European theater of World War II from (1941-45), the first Arab-Israeli War (1948), and the French Indochina War (1954) and tragically passed away by stepping on a mine.

During his lifetime, he co-founded Magnum alongside photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger, David “Chim” Seymour, and William Vandivert in 1947. He also mentored many young photographers in Magnum such as Eve Arnold, Elliot Erwitt, Burt Glinn, Inge Morath, and Marc Riboud.

Capa also famously coined the phrase: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough and his bravery on the front-lines helped him capture some of the most intense, intimate, and emotional photos of war.

So who exactly was Robert Capa, the man and the photographer? How did he start off as a photographer, start Magnum, and create a legacy that has lasted for decades? I wanted to learn more about Robert Capa and did some research on him through the biography “Blood And Champagne: The Life And Times Of Robert Capa” as well as the autobiography Capa himself wrote: “Slightly Out of Focus” where he shares his personal stories from World War II.

Interested in learning more about the legend Robert Capa? If so, read on.

An Afternoon With Bruce Gilden

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This article is written by Ayman Oghanna, an award-winning photographer and journalist based in Istanbul. 

I step into his office and humanity explodes. People everywhere. Moments everywhere. An ocean of smiles, frowns, scowls, and yawns drowning the sidewalks. Since 1981, he has worked these Midtown streets and he’s walking them now as he always has, a step or two faster than everybody else, with an eye on everybody else.

Then he sees her. Twenty yards in front of him, a face-lift in the crowd. A slow moving cartoon of a woman with heavy make up and a shock of peroxide in her hair. She looks like old money and, despite the cosmetic surgery, old-age. A character. He moves towards her, fast, biting his bottom lip with concentration. She’s close now, a few feet away; he steps to the right, looks up and pauses as if lost in thought.  She’s about to pass his shoulder. And then it happens. He attacks. Turning and swooping into her face. Right in her face. FLASH. She gasps, his camera clicks and a hand shoots to her startled heart.

5 Lessons Vivian Maier Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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All photographs copyrighted by Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection

A street photographer whose work and life I hugely admire is that of Vivian Maier. For those of you who haven’t heard her story, she worked and lived as a nanny her entire adult life– and shot street photography on the side for herself. She created incredible black and white and color work through the 1950’s all the way through the late 1990′s. She shot an incredible amount of images– that amount to over 100,000 negatives.

Recently the documentary: “Finding Vivian Maier” on the mystery behind her life and discovery came out. I realized I haven’t written an article on her yet– so I wanted to use the opportunity to do so.

18 Lessons Richard Kalvar Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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All photographs in this article are copyrighted by Richard Kalvar / Magnum Photos

Richard Kalvar is one of the contemporary masters in street photograph, and also a member of Magnum. I have always loved his quirky and observant street photographs, and am quite pleased how active he is– especially on Facebook and the Magnum Blog. I gained a lot of insight about his work and street photography through his various interviews online. Read more to gain inspiration from him!

6 Lessons Jeff Mermelstein Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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All photographs in this article are copyrighted by Jeff Mermelstein.

I love the street photography of Jeff Mermelstein. Hailing from New York City, he is one of the most prolific street photographers and photojournalists out there. Besides his personal street photography work, he has done major assignment work for Life Magazine, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Magazine.

When I first saw Jeff’s images, I was blown away by the simplicity but depth of emotions in his photographs. His photographs are very quirky, and intensely powerful as well.

I wanted to dedicate this article to Jeff– in terms of how he has inspired me in street photography. I also hope to share some of his philosophies, images, and experiences with you.

10 Lessons David Alan Harvey Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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All photos in this article are copyrighted by David Alan Harvey / Magnum Photos

David Alan Harvey is one of the living legends in street photography. He is a member of the prestigious Magnum Photos agency, and also quite active in the contemporary photography world– featuring emerging photographers through burn magazine while teaching courses all around the world.

Close to 70 years old, he is still prolific in his photography–he travels constantly and takes photographs everyday. He still retains the passion for photography as he had as a 12 year old boy.

14 Lessons Alec Soth Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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All photos in this article are copyrighted by Alec Soth / Magnum Photos.

Alec Soth is a photographer whose work I strongly admire. He is a member of Magnum, although he is not the typical “Magnum” photographer. He is generally identified in the “fine art”/documentary crowd– and certainly isn’t considered a “street photographer.” However his philosophies in photography and the way he interacts and photographs his subjects in an empathetic way really helps me connect with him (in street photography).

In this article I want to share some things how Alec Soth has inspired me– both in terms of a human being and as a street photographer:

8 Lessons Zoe Strauss Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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All photos copyrighted by Zoe Strauss / Magnum Photos.

About a year I stumbled upon the work of Zoe Strauss in her book: “America.” I was amazed with the power of her portraits as well as how she masterfully combined them with signs and urban landscapes. Also in terms of the book, they are some of the most powerful diptychs I have ever seen.

I recently checked out a copy of her newest book: “Zoe Strauss: 10 Years” and wanted to write an article about her work. She has an incredible story, and equally incredible images to back it up.

Warning: Some of the photos in this article are graphically intense which are Not Safe For Work. This includes nudity, physical violence, which should not be seen by minors or people who are uncomfortable with these types of images.

14 Lessons Mark Cohen Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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All photographs in this article are copyrighted by Mark Cohen.

I think Mark Cohen is one of the greatest street photographers out there who isn’t as well known as his contemporaries. I’m sure you might have seen some videos of him on YouTube shooting with a flash without using the viewfinder. I have to admit, even to me– he seems a bit “creepy” when you see him working. However the reason he works the way he does is to create art– he feels that the end justifies the means.

I have been deeply inspired by his book: “Grim Street“– and I just pre-ordered a new book he has in the pipeline called “Dark Knees.” His imagery has inspired the way I shoot quite a bit (especially when it comes to photographing details and decapitating heads). Not only that, but it is quite inspirational to see him shoot in his small town for over 30 years.

Below are some lessons I have personally learned from Mark Cohen:

6 Lessons Joel Sternfeld Has Taught Me About Street Photography

Joel Sternfeld. The Space Shuttle Columbia Lands at Kelly Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, March 1979
Joel Sternfeld. The Space Shuttle Columbia Lands at Kelly Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, March 1979

All photographs in this article are copyrighted by Joel Sternfeld.

Joel Sternfeld is one of the most important and influential photographers of this generation. His large-format color work: “American Prospects” was one of the most revolutionary color works of the time– when “serious” art photographers were only using black and white. Inspired by Robert Frank, Sternfeld hit the road in a small Volkswagon van for 3 years and traveled across America– seeking to capture the American landscape. In his Guggenheim report he wrote that the urge was “of someone who grew up with a vision of classical regional America and the order it seemed to contain, to find beauty and harmony in an increasingly uniform, technological, and disturbing America.”

12 Lessons Trent Parke Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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All photographs in this article are copyrighted by Trent Parke / Magnum Photos.

Trent Parke is one of the most phenomenal contemporary photographers around. What I love about his work is the strong emotional and personal connection he has in his photographs, as well as his fanatical passion to street photography.

One of his seminal books, “Minutes to Midnight” recently got republished– and I wanted to write an article on Parke, and how he has inspired my street photography.

12 Lessons Joel Meyerowitz Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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All photos in this article are copyrighted by Joel Meyerowitz.

I am surprised I haven’t written an article about Joel Meyerowitz yet. He is one of the living legends and masters in street photography, currently at 75 years old. He shot in the streets with other legends such as Garry Winogrand, Tony Ray-Jones, and even bumped into Henri Cartier-Bresson on the streets once.

11 Lessons Jacob Aue Sobol Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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© Jacob Aue Sobol / Magnum Photos

The most difficult thing for me is to take pictures from far away.” – Jacob Aue Sobol

Jacob Aue Sobol is one of my favorite contemporary photographers. Not only are his images visually powerful and stirring– but they exude a sense of emotion that pours from the seams. His emotions have depth and soul to them– something that we all as street photographers can learn from him.

While Sobol wouldn’t call himself a “street photographer”–his way of wandering the streets and photographing strangers is something street photographers can all relate to.

I recently received a copy of “Veins a book he co-authored by Anders Petersen and have been thinking more about Sobol’s work. Therefore I wanted to write this article to better get inside the mind of Sobol and share his inspirational images and thoughts about photography to you.

Warning: Some of the photos in this article may not be safe for work.

25 Practical Tips from Elliott Erwitt for Street Photographers

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© Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos

I recently attended Elliot Erwitt’s “100+1” exhibition at Fotografiska, which will be in Stockholm from December 6, 2013 to March 2, 2014. We were given a brochure with great practical advice for street photographers– which I have shared here. This text for the article is extracted from the foreword dedication written by Elliott Erwitt for the book “Personal Exposures.”

7 Lessons Saul Leiter Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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© Saul Leiter

I can’t remember the exact moment that I discovered the work of Saul Leiter. I think I remember seeing some link on the internet about the discovery of one of the earliest “pioneers” in color street photography. But upon hearing this, I didn’t dig into it too deeply.

About a year ago when I was in Marseille, I re-discovered Saul’s work through a good friend of mine, Yves Vernin. When I left Marseille back to America, he gave me a beautiful Saul Leiter book. When I flipped through the pages, I was overwhelmed by the beautiful colors, reflections, and abstractions of Leiter. It was unlike any street photography I had seen before. It was much more romantic, poetic, and full of expression.

I then started to research more on Saul Leiter and have not only appreciated his images, but his philosophy of life. At his late eighties, he is very down-to-earth, and has no interest in legacy or fame. He lived a simple life and even now with his sudden rise in fame, his ego hasn’t inflated one bit.

In anticipation for the DVD release of his film “In No Great Hurry I wanted to write this article about lessons in street photography (and life) I have learned from Saul Leiter.

6 Lessons Eugene Atget Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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Eugene Atget has always been sort of an enigma to me. When I started to delve into the history of street photography, a lot of people credited him to being one of the “fathers of street photography.” But when I first looked at his work, I was a bit confused. Most of his photos didn’t have any people in them. His photos were mostly of the architecture of Paris: doorways, arches, door handles, street facades, and the streets themselves.

I always thought that street photography had to include people in it. But Atget was talked about thoroughly in “Bystander: A History of Street Photography” by acclaimed photo historian Colin Westerbeck and by the great Joel Meyerowitz.

Westerbeck further explains the relevance of Eugene Atget by writing the following:

“While stop action images of people are bound to figure prominently in many collection of street photographs, this book also contains many pictures in which there are no people at all. The most salient examples are to be found in the works of Eugene atget. Yet even he was, through implication and inference, trying to show us life onthestreets. Suggesting presence in these midst of absence, he was attempting to reveal the character of the street as it inherited in the setting itself. Like every other practitioner of this genre, he wandered the streets with his camera, looking for what would they be called photo opportunities. More important, he’d was also like every other street photographer in his readiness to respond to errant details, chance juxtapositions, odd non sequiturs, peculiarities of scale, the quirkiness of life on the streets.”

Did Atget even consider himself a street photographer? Certainly not. In no records of him did he ever call himself a street photographer (the term was coined centuries after he even took photos). Not only that, but Atget saw himself as a “collector of documents” rather than being an artistic photographer.

14 Lessons Elliott Erwitt Has Taught Me About Street Photography

USA.  New York.  2000.
USA. New York. 2000. © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos

If you are not familiar with the work of Elliott Erwitt, you have definitely seen many of Elliott Erwitt’s iconic work all around the globe. As one of the original Magnum members and former president, he has one of the longest spanning photography careers- spanning over 50 years.

What I most appreciate about Elliott Erwitt is his wry sense of humor when looking at the world– as well as his straightforward and nonsensical philosophies about photography. When sharing his thoughts and advice, I think he is one of the most practical and helpful- especially based on his decades of experience.

I share some things I personally have learned from him in the article below.

10 Lessons Andre Kertesz Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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© Estate of André Kertész

All photos copyrighted by the estate of Andre Kertesz. Also many thanks to Michael Meinhardt for helping me edit this text. 

Andre Kertesz is one of the greatest photographers who ever lived. He photographed extensively for over 70 years, which also makes him one of the most prolific photographers. Not only did he help pioneer the genre of street photography, he also had a strong impact on an entire generation of photographers – even including the great Henri Cartier-Bresson.

When asked about Kertesz, Henri Cartier-Bresson showed his reverence by saying: “We all owe something to Kertesz.” and even “Whatever we have done, Kertesz did first.”

Another famous photographer, Brassai, beautifully captured what made Kertesz so great as a photographer:

“André Kertész has two qualities that are essential for a great photographer: an insatiable curiosity about the world, about people, and about life, and a precise sense of form.” – Brassai

Every street photographer with a desire to learn more about the masters needs to know about Kertesz. I have personally gained a great deal of inspiration from him and will share some insights I have gained from him:

17 Lessons Walker Evans Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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I want to write about a photographer that most art and photography students know, but not that many street photographers know (or appreciate) online.

That photographer is Walker Evans, one of the most pivotal American photographer from the 20th century. He inspired a league of influential street photographers such as Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Diane Arbus, and even Bruce Gilden. He is most famous for photographing the Great Depression with the FSA, his candid work of Subway riders in NYC, and his street photos and urban landscapes all around America (his most famous book being “American Photographs” which was the first photography exhibition to be held at the New York MOMA. He was also a non-dogmatic photographer who often proclaimed that the camera didn’t matter and experimented with the 35mm format of the Leica, the 2 1/4 format of the Rolleiflex, the cumbersome 8×10 large-format, and even using a Polaroid SX-90 more or less exclusively towards the end of his life.

There is a lot that I don’t know about Walker Evans, so I made it a point to learn more about him through doing research for this article. I hope that you find his work to be as inspirational as it was to me.

Before I start this article, I want to share this excerpt that Robert Frank said about Evans and his influence on his famous project, “The Americans“:

“When I first looked at Walker Evans’ photographs, I thought of something Malraux wrote: ‘To transform destiny into awareness.’ One is embarrassed to want so much for oneself. But, how else are you going to justify your failure and your effort?” – Robert Frank

5 Lessons Bruce Gilden Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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© Bruce Gilden / Magnum Photos

Bruce Gilden is one of the best street photographers currently alive. He is a photographer who has had a deep influence on me and my approach in street photography– especially when I first saw the video of him shooting in the streets of New York City.

Bruce Gilden is also one of the most controversial street photographers– and I also feel one of the most misunderstood.

In this article I will write what I personally learned from his street photography and how I see him as more of a humanistic street photographer (rather than just being an asshole as others might misinterpret him to be).

10 Lessons Weegee Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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Photo by Weegee. Click to read more

Weegee is certainly one of the most infamous street photographers in history. Although he never called himself a street photographer (he worked as a press/news photographer) his obsession with capturing people was unparalleled. With no formal photographic training, he covered some of the most gruesome murders (and shots of everyday life) around New York City from the 1930’s to the 1940’s. Armed with a portable police-band shortwave radio, he was always on the beat for new stories to cover– and he even had a complete darkroom in the trunk of his car. This allowed him to get his photos to the newspapers as quickly as possible.

Weegee is also famous for the use of his 4×5 Speed Graphic large-format press camera and flash– which added even more drama to his gritty black and white photos. He was certainly one of the forefathers of shooting street photography with a flash (back when they used flashbulbs). He generally shot his camera preset at f/16 at 1/200 of a second, with flashbulbs and a set focus distance of ten feet (and didn’t always know what kind of photos he got until he processed them).

Many street photographers are under the false impression that shooting with artificial light in street photography is just a recent phenomenon. It started as early as 1887, in which the journalist Jacob Riis started using flash power to document destitute people on the streets. Certainly Weegee has had a strong influence on shooting flash in the streets to photographers such as Diane Arbus, William Klein, and Bruce Gilden.

If you want to learn more about the philosophy behind Weegee’s work read on.

Note: some of these photos are gruesome and NSFW. 

7 Lessons W. Eugene Smith Has Taught Me About Street Photography

NYC, 1956. Copyright: Magnum Photos
NYC, 1956. Copyright: Magnum Photos

W. Eugene Smith is one of the legends of photography. Although he was notorious for being maniacal, emotionally distant, and unreasonable– he channeled those energies into being one of the best photographers history has ever seen. I consider his approach to be very similar to that of Steve Jobs.

I hope that this article can help you get a better understanding of W. Eugene Smith, his work, and his philosophies of photography– to take your own work to new heights.

5 Insights “The Mexican Suitcase” Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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Refugee, writing home, Montjuic, Barcelona, November 1936 © David “Chim Seymour. The Mexican Suitcase.

When I was in Arles photo festival last year, I met a photographer who introduced me to a book that he just purchased, titled: “The Mexican Suitcase.” He was jumping up and down with excitement, barely able to contain his enthusiasm.

I was curious what made the book so unique– and I inquired. He then told me the incredible story of the “The Mexican Suitcase“, which were 3 boxes containing more than 4,500 negatives, covering the entire history of the Spanish civil war from 1936 to 1939 which went missing for over 70 years. The negatives included the work of Robert Capa, Chim, and Taro– and gave priceless insights into their working methodologies.

10 Lessons William Eggleston Has Taught Me About Street Photography

william-eggleston-05
© William Eggleston / Steidl

I first heard about William Eggleston through my good friend and talented street photographer Charlie Kirk about a year and a half ago. He mentioned that he just purchased a copy of “Chromes” by William Eggleston– and that it was one of his favorite photographic books. I asked Charlie what the book was, and he mentioned it was a 3-set book published by Steidl (I would argue the best publisher in the world) with some of the loveliest color photographs that, printed in the book, look more like fine art prints than just reproductions.

I was very excited to hear this, as I was getting more and more interested in color. I searched it instantly on Amazon, and was taken back that it cost ~300 USD. I have never spent more than 100 USD on a photo book, and the thought of spending so much was quite daunting.

10 Lessons Lee Friedlander Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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The Little Screens © Lee Friedlander

In my opinion, Lee Friedlander is one of the most under-appreciated (or simply unknown) street photographers when it comes to the internet/social-media sphere. Of course Friedlander is one of the pillars of photography and is known to every student who has gone to photography school. However when I started photography, I had no idea who he was or never even heard of him.

When I first looked at his photographs of the stark urban landscapes, I didn’t really “get” them. However over time, I have began to appreciate his vision and genius when it came to capturing what he first called in 1964, “The American social landscape.”

If you aren’t familiar with Friedlander or simply want to learn more about his work and philosophy – read on.

10 Lessons Josef Koudelka Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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FRANCE. 1987 © Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Don’t miss out on the re-print of Koudelka’s book: “Exiles“!

To me, Josef Koudelka is one of the most brilliant photographers out there and a true master of black and white. Not only does his work carry a strong sense of composition, form, and geometry but they also carry an emotional impact. His photos are raw, gritty, and show both the hope and melancholy of life.

I was first introduced to Koudelka’s work by my good mate, Bellamy Hunt around two years ago. I was staying with Bellamy for a week in Tokyo, and I was rummaging through some his photo books. I asked him what his favorite book was, and Bellamy said: “Exiles” without even a second thought.

I pored through the book, and was amazed by the brilliance of the photographs. When I went back to the states, I did more research on him, and started to become more and more enamored by his work.

I hope this article can be a good introduction to the work and life of Josef Koudelka. He is notorious for not talking much about his work, but he has done several interviews in the past which give an insightful look into his creative process and how he photographs in the streets.

5 Lessons Daido Moriyama Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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© Daido Moriyama

I remember the first time I stumbled upon Daido Moriyama’s work via word-of-mouth by a friend. I remembered how my friend told me how he was a genius, and how incredible his black and white work was.

When I first looked at Daido’s work, I simply didn’t “get it.” His shots looked like a bunch of random and unintentional snapshots. The majority of Daido’s photos weren’t very interesting to me and seemed to be quite boring.

However over time, Daido’s work has grown on me. I still don’t think he is the best street photographer in the world, but I love his unique vision in photography (similarly to William Klein, he went against the grain of tradition in photography). Not only that, but Daido inspires me for his curiosity in life and only sees photography as a way to document how amazing the world truly is.

I know you guys must be sick of my list posts by now, but I prefer to write in that manner as it is easier to organize my thoughts. So with no further adieu, here are some lessons that Daido Moriyama has taught me about street photography.

10 Lessons William Klein Has Taught Me About Street Photography

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© William Klein

William Klein is one of my favorite street photographers of all time. I think one of the things that I love most about him is his “I don’t give a fuck” attitude about the way he approached street photography how he did things his own way. He rebelled against many of the contemporary styles of photography during his time, especially that of Henri Cartier-Bresson and other “classic” street photographers.

In this article, I will share what I have personally learned about street photography through his work. Also in the spirit of William Klein, I will use obscenities when illustrating some points. After all, I think that is what Klein would have liked.

Robert Frank’s “The Americans”: Timeless Lessons Street Photographers Can Learn

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The Americans” by Robert Frank is one of the most influential photo books published of all-time. It has inspired countless numbers of photographers across all genres, especially appealing to documentary and street photographers. I know the book has had a profound impact on my photography and how I approach projects.

While I am not an expert on Robert Frank or “The Americans”, I will share what I personally have learned from his work. For your reference, I used Steidl’s “Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans” as a primary resource for this article. The article is incredibly long, and I encourage you to read it not all in one sitting, but in different phases.

I would also highly recommend saving this article and reading it on Instapaper or Pocket. These services allow you to save the article to read later on your phone, iPad, computer, etc.