Robert Frank, 1996 by Koos Breukel page page

Robert Frank

Switzerland 1924 - 2019


Robert Frank
Robert Frank
November 8, 2016
Andreja Velimirović is a passionate content writer with a knack for art and old movies. Majoring in art history, he is an expert on avant-garde modern movements and medieval church fresco decorations. Feel free to contact him via his Linkedin profile:

One of the most acclaimed artists with a camera in his hands, Robert Frank was an American documentary filmmaker and photographer originally from Switzerland. His incredible number of photographies feature candid glimpses of highways, cars, parades, jukeboxes and diners, revealing an underlying sense of isolation and hardship plaguing our societies from within. Among all his excellent work, Frank’s fresh and nuanced outsider’s view of American society represents the definite highlight of this man’s career, as well as one of the most crucial projects of urban photography to date. When everything he brought to the table is analyzed, it is safe to say that Frank’s black-and-white silver gelatin prints are a legitimate landmark in the evolution of photography, one of the youngest art medium. Although Robert later expanded his work field to cinema and video, as well as manipulating pictures and photomontage, his greatest contribution to art history will forever be his early candid picture-taking.

People like Evans will always love reading a book more than watching a movie
Robert Frank – Trolley, New Orleans, 1958 – Image via

Early Life

Robert Frank was born in Switzerland during the year of 1924. His parents, Rosa and Hermann, had the unfortunate circumstance of being Jews during the rise of the Nazis, making them stateless after losing their German citizenships. The family decided that the best course of action is to apply for the Swiss citizenship where their son was born and where Hermann’s older brother resided. It was in Switzerland that the young Frank’s family waited for the entire World War II horror to come to an end[1]. Robert’s developing personality was, of course, highly affected by the circumstances of his childhood as the threat of Nazism greatly influenced his understanding of oppression. As a means of escape, the young man turned to photography, acquiring his training from a few local photographers and graphic designers. And as the Europe was being swallowed by the abyss of blood and terror, young Robert Frank was developing his photography skill. In the year of 1946, after the world conflict came to a halt, the aspiring artist created his first hand-made book of photographs, titled simply as 40 Fotos.

Every page of every book about music needs additional books with photographs
Robert Frank – Reno, Nevada, 1956 – Image via

Traveling to the United States of America

In 1946, Frank emigrated to the United States and found employment in New York City as a fashion shutterbug for a famous magazine called Harper’s Bazaar. After a while, Robert desired to travel and see the world in order to find some sort of inspiration that will allow him to push his art a few steps further down the quality line. He journeyed all around South America and Europe[2], making new hand-made books of photographs before finally returning to the Untied States in 1950. This year will prove pivotal for Robert as he did not only find inspiration for his photos but he also met Edward Steichen and participated in the group show titled 51 American Photographers at the famous Museum of Modern Art in the New York City. Soon, he married a fellow artist Mary Lockspeiser, with whom he had two children, Andrea and Pablo. By his own acclaim, Frank had many issues with the United States’ society and culture as the fast pace and overemphasis on money characteristic to American life simply did not sit well with the young artist. He now saw America as a harsh and lonely place, a perspective that became evident in his later photography.

Ever since he was a young photographer, Robert Frank aimed at capturing candid images which he rarely altered in post-production processes

Robert Frank - Candy Store Music on Page, New York City, 1955 - Image via artblastcom
Robert Frank – Candy Store, New York City, 1955 – Image via

Robert Frank and The Americans

After a short period of time spent living in Paris, Frank and his family settled back in the Big Apple in 1953 and Robert continued to work as a freelance photojournalist for magazines including McCall’s, Vogue, and Fortune. During this time, the photographer worked with numerous camera artists, such as Saul Leiter and Diane Arbus. Through his work and collaborations with colleagues, Frank helped shape the famous New York School of Photographers during the early and mid-1950s. In 1955, Robert secured a Guggenheim Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, getting awarded with a trip across the United States and photograph every step of the way. For the first time in his life, Frank was traveling and making images across the USA, visiting such places as Detroit, Dearborn, Michigan, Miami, New Orleans, Houston, Los Angeles and Chicago[3]. He took his family along with him and spent the next two years of the road, during which time he took over 28,000 shots. The total of 83 images from that impressive amount were chosen and later published in the form of Frank’s most famous project to date, titled The Americans. As he later admitted himself, Frank’s journey through The United States was not without incident. He later recalled the anti-Semitism in a small Arkansas town and the time he was thrown to jail as the two biggest and most stressful obstacles placed before him during the making of The Americans. Nonetheless, this surgical dissection of American culture remains one of the most detailed and most honest analysis of USA society to date.

Although Robert Frank had a career full of fantastic achievements, his project titled The Americans is a definite highlight of this photographer’s work

Robert Frank - Untitled, from The Americans project - Image via americansuburbxcom
Robert Frank – Untitled image from The Americans project – Image via

Life After The Americans[4]

The time after publishing The Americans was a tough period for Frank. Because many were offended by the honest Robert presented them with his project, the photographer had some troubles finding employment. Regardless, the artist continued to inspect the USA society and make more of his images aimed at documenting both the dark and positive side of America. Frank waited for over five years before he got a shot at holding his own individual show for the first time. In 1961, Robert presented his art at the Art Institute of Chicago, followed by a MoMA show in 1962. It took some time to occur, but The Americans eventually became accepted and rejoiced by the Untied States and its society, transforming it into an excellent reflection of all levels of American citizenship. However, by the time The Americans started to be truly received by the United States, Frank had moved away from photography to concentrate on filmmaking. This new medium became Robert’s new creative love as the common rejections from the photography circles further spurred his turning towards the cinema.

Evans was looking at the book about art, thinking how many such books have been published
Robert Frank – Chattanooga, Tenn, 1956 – Image via

Robert Frank and Film

Entering the film industry marked a big shift in Robert’s career. Among his earliest movie was the 1959 Pull My Daisy, a movie which was written and narrated by Kerouac. It featured Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and other actors from the famous Beat circle. Because of amazing performances, many believed that Pull My Daisy was an improvised film, a theory that is probably at least partially true as Frank transported many of his candid photography habits to the cinema world. However, Frank’s co-director, Alfred Leslie, never admitted that to be true, insisting that the movie was carefully planned, rehearsed and directed[5]. Another aspect of Pull My Daisy wowed the audiences – fantastic lighting. Robert had much experience with lighting the subjects in front of his camera and that aspect of the film was a true phenomenon at the time. The next great film made by a photographer turned director was Sin of Jesus, a movie which was based on an Isaac Babel’s story. The plot was centered around a woman working on a chicken farm in New Jersey. Filming the Sin of Jesus was a drawn out process which lasted a staggering six months, a very long time for a low production film at the time. During that period, Robert lived in the basement of a friend whilst his family stayed at home in New York.

In 1972, Robert’s arguably greatest film ever was made. It was based on the life and art of the Rolling Stones and was called Cocksucker Blues. The film shows the Stones on tour, engaging in heavy drug use and group sex. After its release, Cocksucker Blues became a rock and roll Bible. Concerning his experience of filming the legendary British band, Frank stated the following: It was great to watch them — the excitement. But my job was after the show. What I was photographing was a kind of boredom. It’s so difficult being famous. It’s a horrendous life. Everyone wants to get something from you. Mick Jagger loved the film but said that he does not expect that the United States will ever open its gates to Roling Stones after watching how they behave on film. What followed was a long lawsuit battle disputed whether Frank as the artist or the Stones as those who hired the artist owned the copyright. Ultimately, the court reached a compromise[6]Cocksucker Blues would be shown only five times per years and Robert had to be present during projections. Other notable films made by Robert are Me and My Brother, Keep Busy and Candy Mountain.

This book is looking at the people whose home is like old things falling apart
Robert Frank – Mary With Large Daisy In Her Hair – Image via

The Return to Photography

Even though Robert Frank continued to be interested in film and video, he returned to the art of still images in the late 1970s, publishing his second photographic book titled The Lines of My Hand in the year of 1972. Many have described this work as a visual autobiography of the artist since the project consisted largely of personal photographs. What followed were numerous series and projects aimed at investigating all sorts of aspects of our societies. However, not one of these collections had an impact even comparable to that of The Americans. As some critics have pointed out, this is perhaps because Frank began playing with constructed images more than a decade after Robert Rauschenberg introduced his silkscreen composites. In the meantime, Frank remarried – his new wife was a sculptor June Leaf. The married couple moved to Mabou, Nova Scotia in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia in Canada[7]. Since arriving here, Frank’s life was full of hardships. His daughter Andrea was killed in a plane crash in Tikal, Guatemala, whilst his son Pablo was first hospitalized and then later diagnosed with schizophrenia. Much of Frank’s subsequent work dealt with the impact of the loss, making his mature art the by far darkest chapter of his work. In honor of his daughter, Robert founded the Andrea Frank Foundation in 1995, an institution which provides grants to artists.

During his career which lasted for over sixty years, Robert Frank managed to leave an amazing mark on both photography and filmmaking

Evans published books that people like because things inside them remind them to home
Robert Frank – Belle Isle, 1955 – Image via

The Cruciality of Robert Frank and His Imagery

Robert’s photos offer a complex critique of our society covering the time lapse of over half a century, presenting us with one of the most fundamental studies for anyone interested in this period. Frank captured both the extraordinary and the common, famous and ordinary, never allowing anything to stand in the way of his art. And ultimately, his effort paid off as Frank effectively transformed his work into a genuine landmark of the photo-making medium. Nowadays, although he is still active as an artist, Robert and his images serve as an inspiration and reference to anyone desiring to become a creator of this sort of art. And out of everything this photographer is capable of teaching the younger practitioners, his quotes are just as worthy as his photos:

There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment. This kind of photography is realism. But realism is not enough—there has to be vision, and the two together can make a good photograph.

This artist is represented by Stephen Bulger Gallery Toronto.

Robert Frank died in 2019 at the age of 94. He lived and worked in Nova Scotia, Canada.


  1. Greenough, S., Frank, R., Robert Frank: Moving Out, Scalo Publishers, 1994
  2. Yamazaki, A., Frank, R., Robert Frank: What We Have Seen , Steidl, 2016
  3. Beilenhoff, W., Ribbat, C., Eskildsen, U., Robert Frank: Hold Still, Keep Going, Steidl, 2016
  4. Greenough, S., Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans: Expanded Edition, National Gallery Of Art, Washington/Steidl, 2009
  5. Frank, R., Robert Frank: You Would, Steidl, 2012
  6. Frank, R., Robert Frank: Park / Sleep, Steidl, 2013
  7. Frank, R., Robert Frank: Tal uf Tal ab, First Edition, 2010

Featured image: Robert Frank – Photo of the artist, 1996 – Image via Koos Breukel. All images used for illustrative purposes only.

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2017VIVRE !!Musée de l'histoire de l'immigration, Paris Group
2017Black and WhiteAlbertina, Vienna Group
2016Robert Frank: Books And Films 1947-2014Kunsthalle Ziegelhütte, Appenzell Solo
2016Robert Frank: Books and FilmsHalle 14, Leipzig Solo
2016A Cool BreezeHoward Greenberg Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2016Beat GenerationCentre Pompidou, Paris Group
2016The Open Road: Photography and the American Road TripThe Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI Group
2016Something For EveryoneHamiltons Gallery, London Group
2016Dream statesThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY Group
2016A Democracy of ImageryHoward Greenberg Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2016Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International PhotographersBarbican Art Gallery, London Group
2016The Open Road: Photography and the American Road TripCrystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR Group
2015Robert Frank. Books and Films, 1947–2014Museum Folkwang, Essen Solo
2015Retratos. Colección Fundación MAPFRE de FotografíaMuseo de la Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico City Group
2015Percepciones Hombre Y Mujer En La Historia De La FotografíaFundacion Canal, Madrid Group
2015The City: Works From The CollectionHerbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca, NY Group
2015Expanded HorizonsFabian & Claude Walter Galerie, Zurich Group
2015Black & WhiteAlbertina, Vienna Group
2015America Is Hard to SeeWhitney Museum of American Art, New York City, NY Group
201520th Anniversary: A Group Exhibition Celebrating 20 YearsStephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto, ON Group
2015Sign, sign, everywhere a signJustina M Barnicke Gallery, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON Group
2014Robert Frank: Photographs from the Collections of Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung SchweizFotografiska, Stockholm Solo
2014LoveCamera Work, Berlin Group
2014Augen Auf! 100 Jahre Leica FotografieDeichtorhallen Hamburg, Hamburg Group
2014Artists as Art: Photographic PortraitsVirginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA Group
2014Road Trip : Photography of the American WestMusée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux, Bordeaux Group
2014Artificial Light: Flash Photography in the Twentieth CenturyPhiladelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA Group
2014Now You See It: Photography and ConcealmentThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY Group
2014Uncommon People In Ordinary LifePhotographica FineArt Gallery, Lugano Group
2014Black | WhiteThe Grace Museum, Abilene, TX Group
2014The Heart And The Eye Henri Cartier-Bresson And Robert Frank In The WorldDanziger Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2013Foto Europa: 1840 to PresentThe Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI Group
2013Masters Of Modern & Contemporary PhotographyIkkan Art Gallery, Singapore Group
2013At the Window: The Photographer's ViewThe Getty Center, Los Angeles, CA Group
2013Modern Japanese Art from the Museum CollectionNational Museum of Modern Art Tokyo (MOMAT), Tokyo Group
2013Summer SelectionDanziger Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2013This Infinite WorldFotomuseum Winterthur, Winterthur Group
2013The Gender ShowGeorge Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, NY Group
2013Car Culture: Art and the AutomobileHeckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY Group
2013Los Mejores libros del año, PHE, PhotoEspaña 2013Antiguo Hospital de Santa María la Rica, Madrid Group
2013Fantastic MachineryIstanbul Modern, Istanbul Group
2013Contra TàpiesFundación Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona Group
2013Light SensitiveDuke University, Durham, NC Group
2012Robert FrankDanziger Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
2012Photography from the Museum CollectionThe Fralin Museum of Art, Charlottesville, VA Solo
2012PainkillerBlue Sky Gallery, Portland, OR Solo
2012Motor City Muse: Detroit Photographs, Then and NowThe Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI Group
2012Walker Evans & The American Social Landscape PhotographersAllentown Art Museum, Allentown, PA Group
2012Howard Greenberg, CollectionMusée de l´Elysée, Lausanne Group
2012Another LondonTate Britain, London Group
2012City Scenes: Highlights of New York Street PhotographyMuseum of the City of New York, New York City, NY Group
2012América, América En La Colección Del IVAMInstitut Valencià d'Art Modern, Valencia Group
2012Silver CurtainStephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco, CA Group
2012Refraction-ReflectionToledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH Group
2012Negotiation within the Frame: textual and pictorial connections in artMcIntosh Gallery, London, ON Group
2012Photodocument: 20th-century American Photography And Found TextAmherst College, Amherst, MA Group
2012Hallo América!Centre Cultural Bancaixa, Valencia Group
2012Der Mensch und seine ObjekteMuseum Folkwang Essen, Essen Group
2012Conversations: Photography from the Bank of America CollectionIrish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin Group
2012Snail MailMuseum of Fine Arts Houston, Houston, TX Group
2012Mie: A Portrait By 35 ArtistsFreight + Volume, New York City, NY Group
2012Group Exhibition"1955"Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto, ON Group
2012100 Years of PhotographyThe Fralin Museum of Art, Charlottesville, VA Group
2012Art Shay: And the Documenting of MId-Century AmericaStephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago, IL Group
2011Robert Frank. Colección Del IvamCentro Andaluz de la Fotografía, Almería Solo
2011Voyeurism and surveillance through the camera since 1870Fundacion Canal, Madrid Solo
2011paces, Places and Identity: Robert Frank: PortraitsUrsinus College, Collegeville, PA Solo
2011An Autobiography of Our CollectionVancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, BC Group
2011Japan Fashion Photo 2011HPGRP Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2011Von HorizontenFotomuseum Winterthur, Winterthur Group
2011Not For SalePassage de Retz, Paris Group
2011Hail Traveler!Rick Wester Fine Art, New York City, NY Group
2011Car Fetish. I drive, therefore I am.Museum Tinguely, Basel Group
2011Abstract Expressionist New YorkArt Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, ON Group
2011HerePier 24 Photography, San Francisco, CA Group
2010Detroit ExperiencesThe Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI Solo
2010Robert FrankRobert Mann Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
2010Robert FrankHoward Greenberg Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
2010Staff Picks 2010Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2010Humanos. Acciones, Historia Y FotografíaCentro de Arte Alcobendas (CAA), Madrid Group
2010Autour de l'extremeMaison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris Group
2010The Unseen Eye: Photography from the collection of W.M. HuntAppleton Museum of Art, Ocala, FL Group
2010Street Photography: Selected Works from Six DecadesKunsthandel Jörg Maaß, Berlin Group
2010From the Collection of Randi and Bob FisherPier 24 Photography, San Francisco, CA Group
2010Portrait PhotographsWorcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA Group
2010Where in the World?Macgill Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2010Turning Over a New Leaf: Selected Botanical WorksEdward Thorp Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2010Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the CameraTate Modern, London Group
2010I.G.Y.Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2010Great Photographs of the 20th Century: Staged and StartledHasted Kraeutler, New York City, NY Group
2010Southern Exposure: Photographs of the American SouthThe Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MNGroup
2009Robert Frank: Pace Macgill Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
2009Robert Frank . Die FilmeC.O Berlin, Berlin Solo
2009Robert Frank: The AmericansThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY Solo
2009Looking In: Robert Frank's "The Americans"San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA Solo
2009Robert Frank: ParisNederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam Solo
2009Robert Frank, un regard étrangerJeu de Paume, Paris Solo
2009Looking In: Robert Frank's "The Americans"The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC Solo
2008Robert Frank: Lo straniero americanoPalazzo Reale, Milan Solo
2008ROBERT FRANK. PARISMuseo Fotografia Contemporanea, Cinisello Balsamo, MI Solo
2007Robert Frank: WordsMuseo Nacional de Bellas Artes Santiago Chile, Santiago Solo
2005Robert Frank, In CanadaStephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto, ON Solo
2005Robert Frank: StorylinesFotomuseum Winterthur, Winterthur Solo
2005Robert Frank: StorylinesFotostiftung Schweiz (Schweizerische Stiftung für die Photographie), Winterthur Solo
2005Robert Frank: ArgumentosMuseu d´Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Barcelona Solo
2004Robert Frank: StroylinesTate Modern, London Solo
2003Robert FrankThe Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC Solo
2003Robert Frank PhotographsAustin Museum of Art, Austin, TX Solo
2002Robert Frank PhotographsThe Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL Solo
2002Robert FrankCanadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, Ottawa, ON Solo
2002ROBERT FRANK: Selected Works 1948-1961Laurence Miller Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
2002Robert Frank: A SelectionLaurence Miller Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
2001Robert Frank. Hold Still... Keep GoingMuseo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid Solo
2000Robert Frank. Hold StillMuseum Folkwang Essen, Essen Solo
2000Robert Frank. Keep GoingMuseum Folkwang Essen, Essen Solo
1998Robert Frank: The AmericansThe Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, WI Solo
1997Robert Frank: The Image MakerJan Kesner Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Solo
1997Robert FrankHasselblad Center, Gothenburg Solo
1996Robert Frank: Moving OutLannan Foundation, Los Angeles, CA Solo
1996The AmericansCenter for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Durham, NC Solo
1995Robert FrankWhitney Museum of American Art, New York City, NY Solo
1995Robert FrankStedelijk Museum CS, Amsterdam Solo
1995Robert Frank: The AmericansKemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO Solo
1995Robert Frank: Moving OutKunsthaus Zürich, Zurich Solo
1995Robert Frank: Moving OutYokohama Museum of Art, Nishi-ku, Yokohama Solo
1994Robert Frank: Moving OutThe National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC Solo
1993Robert Frank and the everydayPresentation House Gallery, North Vancouver, BC Solo
1993Robert Frank: Looking Through the Window, 1948-1964Jan Kesner Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Solo
1991Robert FrankPalazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome Solo
1990Robert Frank. Min hands linjerModerna Museet, Stockholm Solo
1989The AmericansJan Kesner Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Solo
1989The Lines of My HandFotografie Forum international, Frankfurt, Main Solo
1987Robert Frank: New York to Nova ScotiaThe Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN Solo
1987Robert Frank: rétrospectiveMusée de l´Elysée, Lausanne Solo
1987Robert FrankMuseum Folkwang Essen, Essen Solo
1986Robert Frank: New York to Nova ScotiaThe Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH Solo
1986Robert Frank: New York to Nova ScotiaMuseum of Fine Arts Houston, Houston, TX Solo
1985Robert Frank: fotografías films, 1948-1984Sala Parpallo, Valencia Solo
1982Robert FrankPhotographic Gallery Hippolyte, Helsinki Solo
1981Robert Frank: ForwardFraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, CA Solo
1980Robert Frank : PhotographsThird Eye Centre, Glasgow, Scotland Solo
1980Robert Frank: PhotographsInstitute of Contemporary Arts, London Solo
1979The Americans and New York Photographs by Robert FrankSidney Janis Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
1976Robert FrankKunsthaus Zürich, Zurich Solo
1961Robert Frank: PhotographsThe Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL Solo