At the age of 23, Swiss born-and-raised photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank emigrated to the United States. It was the first stop of many over a six year period where he found himself traveling between Europe and the Americas. After returning to the United States and working as a freelance photojournalist in New York City, he would then embark on a nine-month cross-country trip that would cover 10,000 miles and produce his now-famous book of photography The Americans.
Frank’s cinematic yet candid and grainy images of the average American stand in contrast to standard ideas of patriotism and suburbia broadcasted across pop culture during his lifetime. While America was known as the land of opportunity and chance, Frank showed the disenfranchised, the lonely, the not-so-pretty, the forgotten.
To describe the work of Frank, no phrase comes quite as close as “snapshot aesthetic.” Often labeled as the mastermind behind the style, Frank’s work features everyday people performing everyday activities, transforming the ordinary into extraordinary.
Although Frank was raised in the relative safe haven of Switzerland, his father was German-born and Jewish in a time where the threat of Nazi idealism loomed. Perhaps his less than optimistic view of conventional success was sparked by his early understanding of oppression and the search for perfectionism.
Frank’s work shows the human form as anything but a two-dimensional story. While printed in black and white, his photos tell tales of people whose lives were anything but. Frank’s raw, ironic take on post-war America highlights often dismissed narratives that do not align with the American ideal.
After the publication of his photographs, Frank explored other creative mediums, including cinematography and filmmaking. His most well known works include Cocksucker Blues, Pull My Daisy, and The Sin of Jesus. Still The Americans will go on as Frank’s most enduring work, telling compelling and thought-provoking stories of the unprivileged.
Robert Frank, a pioneering figure and creative mind, passed on September 9, 2019 at his home in Nova Scotia, Canada.