Robert Frank Biography

Swiss-born American filmmaker and photographer, Robert Frank (1924- 2019) most often captured people in the throes of daily life. “There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment,” he once said. “This kind of photography is realism. But realism is not enough- there has to be a vision, and the two together can make a good photograph.” Frank saw the world in a way that was at odds with commonly perceived visual clichés of his time, but which was definitely more truthful. He has a fresh and nuanced outsider’s view of American society.

Born in 1924 in Zurich, Switzerland, he began studying photography in 1941 and later worked for commercial studios around Switzerland over the next six years. In 1947, Frank immigrated to the United State where he was hired by Alexey Brodovitch and worked as a fashion photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. Over the next five years he worked with a number of other publications such as LIFE and Vogue. As an immigrant, Frank was captivated by America and after he traveled around the country and with the help of his colleague and mentor, Walker Evans, Frank was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. He embarked on a two-year trip across America where he took over 28,000 photographs documenting the wide spectrum of its society.

This photography excursion led to Frank’s seminal photobook The Americans (1958) which has been acknowledged to be one of the greatest photography books ever published. This book redefines what a photo book could be- personal, poetic and real. By the 1960s Frank had turned most of his attention to film and not returning to still photography until the 1970s. Among his films was the 1959 Pull My Daisy, written and narrated by Kerouac and starred Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. In 1972 Frank created a documentary of The Rolling Stones, Cocksucker Blues and it is arguably his best-known film.

Robert Frank has had solo exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1961 and the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1962. His photographs are held in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Kunsthaus Zurich, among others.