You Should Know… Robert Frank

Swiss born photographer Robert Frank is a photographic legend whose inspiration can still be felt today. His book The Americans broke many photographic rules of the time and created a new standard for social documentary photography. He is also responsible for the romanticised idea of the photographic road trip, which continues to crop up as a convention of the medium.

The Big Deal

Having received a Guggenheim grant in 1955, Frank set out on what would become a two year road trip across America. Traveling from city to city, Frank’s subjects spanned all backgrounds and social classes. The end result was a stark portrait of a country that didn’t quite line up with the American dream. Initially, his work was met with harsh criticism and his book proposal was rejected by American publishers. This lead to the book being first published in France, then in America the following year (1959). It wasn’t until 1961 that Frank had his first solo show, at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Life in Brief

Born in Switzerland in 1924, Frank lived there during World War 2, becoming interested in photography in the mid-40s. In 1947, Frank moved to New York and started working as a fashion photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. Shortly after, he traveled around South America and Europe, creating more personal work, coming back to New York in 1950. That year, Frank entered the art world when he met Edward Steichen and was included in a group show at the MoMA. Throughout the 50’s he worked as a photojournalist for various publications. After completing The Americans, Frank gave up photography and turned to film making. In the 1970s Frank once again took up photography producing several bodies of work. Frank now spends his time between Nova Scotia and New York.

Trivia Tidbit

Frank shot 27 000 images while working on The Americans, the final edit contains 83.

For More

NPR – ‘Americans’ – The Book That Changed Photography


1 Comment

  1. Robert Frank is one of my favourites. I got to see the Americans exhibit at the MoMa a couple of years ago and it was incredible to see the image, in sequence to the book. As well, it was great to see his contact sheets to see how exactly he got to the images that we are all so familiar with.


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