Photographers You Should Know: Robert Frank from Knock Twice

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.

City of London, 1951

Canal Street, New Orleans, 1955

Drive-in Movie, Detroit, 1955

 Drugstore, Detroit, 1955

Belle Isle, 1955

Rodeo, New York City, 1955

Elevator, Miami Beach, 1955

Parade-Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955

Charleston, South Carolina, 1955

From "The Americans", 1955

Trolley, New Orleans, 1955

Untitled from "The Americans", 1955

 For More:

NPR – ‘Americans’ – The Book That Changed Photography

Knock Twice blog is an online resource to assist and inform budding creative professionals, and is where a version of this post originally appeared. You can visit Knock Twice here. 


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