Remembering Robert Frank – one of the most acclaimed photographers of the 20th century


Hello photography fans! It’s Martin here
from All About Street Photography channel and I have some sad news to talk
about today. I would like to talk about amazing photographer Robert Frank who
passed away last week at the age of 94. He was a photographer and filmmaker who
influenced a generations of photographers and other artists. Let’s talk about
Robert Frank. Robert Frank was born in 1924 in
Zürich to jewish family. He decided not to follow his family footsteps in
business but rather turned to photography. Perhaps as an escape from
the life his family lived and he didn’t want to follow. He was working as
commercial photographer in Switzerland from 1941 until 1947 when he travelled
to the United States and just like many other street photographers who I have
talked about previously worked as a fashion photographer. He started his
career in Harper’s Bazaar and New York became his new home. Even though he
worked as a fashion photographer he was using his 35 mm Leica
which was very unusual for fashion work. However, he soon found fashion
photography too restrictive, resigned and focused on journalism and advertising as
a freelance photographer for magazines such as Vogue and Life. In his free time
he was also focusing on a street photography which helped him to get into
the New York art world. It was actually Walker Evans who advised him to apply
for the Guggenheim Fellowship that allowed him to set out to traverse the
USA and produce his most important and famous work the book: The Americans. Which
wasn’t actually his first book. In 1946 Frank published 40 Fotos which
was his first photo book. 40 fotos display Frank’s power to present
multiple photographs in series. What I like about this book is Frank’s use of
juxtaposition when presenting the photographs. We usually talk about this
in photography when we talk about the law of proximity. The eyes see the
connection between visual elements and photographer makes use of it when
framing the shot. (A deeper explanation will probably be enough for another
video) Frank however did not use it in
composition of particle photographs but in composition of the book’s layout. I
definitely recommend you to check out the book. Now, back to the Americans.
Thanks to the Guggenheim Fellowship Frank was able to travel across
America in 1955 and 1956. The Americans was the first time he made a trip across
the country. Sometimes he traveled with his wife and children but most of the
time he was alone. The book is said to be the most revolutionary in history of
photography. Frank’s unique view of America shocked Americans. His original
goal was to capture ordinary people as they lived their everyday lives. It was a
different viewpoint of the USA a real perspective of America was not a typical
way Americans were used to see themselves during the time after World
War 2 a period of great prosperity. What I think he wanted to point out was
the tough country and what a lonely time it can be in America for some. He
highlights that feeling in many of his photos by isolating his subject. It
was also very surprising to him how black people were treated in America. Wt
was very strange to him and as he later said, to see black women taking care of
white women’s children while not being able to sit at the same table. The reactions
surprised him since people thought it was an anti-american story. In Frank’s
eyes the book was more work of art than propaganda. It actually took more than
ten years for the opinions to change. He took around 27,000 images during his
trip eighty-three photographs made it to the book. Even though the book wasn’t
accepted that well at first it was later considered groundbreaking classic. The
Americans is now widely considered one of the most influential books in the
history of photography. After publishing the book in America in 1959 he abandoned
photography for quite some time and turned to film. He said that the
commercialism, even though he benefited from that, was the nail in the coffin for
photography. It brought much more people in photography and led to mass
production as a result. Everybody wants a piece of the pie and then it gets
diluted and mass-produced and it kills everything and that happened in
photography.” He said. As he didn’t want to do photography anymore he started to
make films the film brought something that he didn’t experience in photography
the communication. Among many other films it is differently worth mentioning a
short film Pull my Daisy which was written and narrated by Jack Kerouac and
also Cocksucker Blues which was a documentary film about Rolling Stones
1972 – of America. Frank shot total of 19 movies during his
life. He returned to still photography in 70s when he published his second
photography book: The Lines of My Hand. Consisting of personal photographs the
book was described as visual autobigraphy. Later he focused more on
collages and experimented with photo montage. He published more than 15 books
during his life but none of his work ever exceeded the impact The Americans
had. The book was revolutionary for American photographers and artists. Frank
influenced many important photographers like Gary Winogrand, Lee Friedlander or
Joel Meyerowitz. This vision of Robert Frank inspired
whole generations of (not only street) photographers

6 Replies to “Remembering Robert Frank – one of the most acclaimed photographers of the 20th century”

  1. You must be a fine person. I like your quiet and distinctive recitals of the lives and works of influential photographers. We — our culture — need to be reminded not only of the artists, buy of quiet dignity in discourse. You blend both well. Thank you.

  2. Thank you. I am a 57 years old beginner, and learn a lot from your humble, informative videos. You are a good teacher.

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