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26.3.09

Documenting Robert Frank's America


Robert Frank, Parade - Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955 (Private Collection, San Francisco), image courtesy of National Gallery of Art
A couple weeks ago, I had the chance to look through the exhibit on Robert Frank's The Americans, currently on view in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art. In 1955 and 1956, Robert Frank traveled around the United States taking thousands of photographs, eventually selecting 83 images to be reproduced in his famous book, published here in America in 1959. Born into a wealthy American family in Switzerland, Frank's negative view of the country that he did not really know comes across in the way he trained his eye on the places he visited.

In fact, the book was first published in France, in a 1958 edition, and the French are marking the anniversary, too. As reported by Michel Guerrin (Dans les pas de Robert Frank, March 12) for Le Monde, Philippe Séclier screened a new documentary about the 20th-century de Toqueville's American trips, Un Voyage américain at the Musée du Jeu de paume in Paris earlier this month. Although Frank himself, still alive but something of a recluse, did not accept an interview for the film, Séclier spoke to everyone involved in the production of the book that he could, as well as traveling the United States by car, retracing Frank's steps and shooting footage in the places where Frank took the book's photographs. You can listen to the director speak to Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head of the NGA's department of photographs, on this podcast. The museum screened the film on January 18, while I was in Miami.

Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans continues at the National Gallery of Art through April 26. It will then travel to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (May 16 to August 23) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (September 22 to December 27).


Robert Frank, Streetcar - New Orleans

6 comments:

Stuart Alexander said...

Actually, Robert Frank's father was German and his mother was Swiss. He did NOT come from an American family.

Charles T. Downey said...

Yeah, correction noted. I think you're right and I was wrong. Still, how did Frank get a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1955 if he was not an American citizen?

Anonymous said...

Philippe Séclier, the director of An American Journey never intend to have Robert Frank in his film (appeared or speak)...but the film was made with the complicity of Frank who gave him the right to show the images as pleased. best

Stuart Alexander said...

Frank was the first foreign-born artist (and to non-American parents) to receive a Guggenheim but he had an American wife and two American children, an American address and the expressed intention to remain in America plus letters of recommendation from the most prominent figures in the field. He finally obtained American citizenship in 1963. But he was apparently able to convince the Guggenehim Foundation that he was a "permanent resident" with the intention of becoming a US citizen.

More surprising to me is that the Czech, Josef Koudelka was able to get a National Endowment for the Arts Grant in 1980. Apparently, it was because he was apatride and his agency Magnum Photos allowed him a US address.

Charles T. Downey said...

Thanks so much for the follow-up comments. Good to know!

Anonymous said...

has anyone seen this film and care to post a comment/ brief review?