How Robert Frank’s Photographs Helped Define America

The array of moments that Frank captured and presented is a statement on the broad, unwieldy idea on which the nation is premised.

nation that is premised on an idea—not on an alleged shared bloodline or eons of history on common acreage—is prone to periodically question exactly who and what it is. The matter that binds Americans, as much as any doctrine or document, is the pursuit of a definition of who Americans are. There are facile adjectives applied to us—optimistic, volatile, swaggering—but they more often seem to apply to pretensions that we wear before the world. Who we are in our unguarded moments, and even what portion of people are included in the word we, is another matter entirely. This is part of the reason that Robert Frank’s photographic essay “The Americans,” published in France in 1958 and released in the U.S. a year later, is both an indelible reflection of American culture and one of the works that helped define it. To produce it, Frank, who died this week, at the age of ninety-four, spent two years scouring the country in a used car, courtesy of a Guggenheim grant, a contrail of dust his most constant companion.

The America of Robert Frank

Danziger Gallery presents an exhibition devoted to Robert Frank  American photographs, his best known and arguably most important work. The exhibition will be comprised of 40 photographs – 15 from Frank’s seminal book “The Americans” (now celebrating the 60th anniversary of its American publication) and 25 unpublished works from Frank’s travels at the time.

Robert Frank 1924-2019 – The Photo Society

Robert Frank died today. As Sean O’Hagan wrote for The Guardian “it is impossible to imagine photography’s recent past and overwhelmingly confusing present without (Robert Frank’s) lingeringly pervasive presence. Frank was 31 in 1955 when he secured the Guggenheim Grant… He shot around 28,000 pictures. When Les Americains was published by Robert Delpire in France in 1958, it consisted of just 83 black and white images, but it changed the nature of photography, what it could say and how it could say it… it remains perhaps the most influential photography book of the 20th century… (Robert Frank) caught what Diane Arbus called the ‘hollowness’ at the heart of many American lives, the chasm between the American dream and the everyday reality.” One of the photographers I know in Cape Breton, Chad Tobin, @tobinchad, has been photographing Robert Frank at his summer home in Mabou, Nova Scotia for ten years now. He and Robert Frank had a special connection.

The Shock of Robert Frank’s “The Americans”

The photographer, who died on Monday, captured bleedingly raw images of postwar America.

It may be impossible to convey to people who weren’t percipient in the early nineteen-sixties the profound, exulting shock that Robert Frank’s “The Americans” delivered to me, among many others, at the time of its release. The book, which was published in the United States in 1959, ranked with Dylan, Warhol, and Motown as a revelation something like a celestial visitation and something like being knocked off a cliff into a free fall so giddy as to obviate any fret about hard landings. The toughest part, from today’s perspective, was that the impact of Frank’s pictures had only passingly to do with their social, political, and otherwise thematic content, now so serviceable to this or that mode of critique. We were formalists then, and anti-formalists—not alternatively but both at once. Frank had exalted photographic form by shattering it against the stone of the wonderful and (oh, yeah) horrible real.

Wanting to See Like Robert Frank

Embracing the work of the photographer, who died on Monday, at age ninety-four, meant that you, too, could abide a certain amount of ambiguity.

The photographer Robert Frank died on Monday, on Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia. He was ninety-four. Frank’s pictures were spontaneous and imperfect—usually grainy and overexposed, often crooked—yet consistently devastating to behold. I bought his best-known book, “The Americans,” when I was sixteen, in part because Jack Kerouac had written the introduction, and I was young enough to still be thoroughly and guilelessly enraptured by Kerouac’s beautiful, ecstatic ideas about personal freedom. Frank shot the book in 1955 and 1956, after receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship, which allowed him to crisscross the country in a Ford Business Coupe, with his 35-mm. Leica camera and hundreds of rolls of film. He was always looking—peering in and out of windows, ducking around corners, lingering off to the side of the action. There is something furtive and nearly supernatural about his photographs. It often feels as if his pictures aren’t of vistas or faces or rooms, but of secret American feelings. “He sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world,” Kerouac wrote.

In Memoriam : Jean Marquis

It was nice this Monday at Rambouillet. Jean Marquis, 93 years old, also left surrounded by all his family. He leaves us a magnificent body of work.

In Memoriam : Jean Marquis

It was nice this Monday at Rambouillet. Jean Marquis, 93 years old, also left surrounded by all his family. He leaves us a magnificent body of work.

Boris Lojkine on Late French Photographer: ‘I Felt Very Close’ to Camille

French photojournalist Camille Lepage was just 26 when she was killed covering the armed conflict in the Central African Republic, a country riven by violence between largely Muslim rebel groups an…

It was only after Lepage’s death that her story caught the attention of French filmmaker Boris Lojkine, whose sophomore narrative feature, “Camille,” will have its world premiere on the Piazza Grande during the Locarno Film Festival. Starring Nina Meurisse and based on extensive research with Lepage’s family, friends and colleagues, the film is both a moving coming-of-age story about a young photographer finding her artistic voice and a thoughtful exploration of the ethical challenges faced by war photographers in foreign lands.