American, born Switzerland
(Zurich, Switzerland, 1924 - September 10, 2019)
Lives Nova Scotia
Robert Frank emigrated from his native Switzerland to New York City in 1947, and began his career as a fashion photographer. In 1955 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship to travel throughout the United States and document American society and culture.
From 1955 to 1958, Frank photographed American life as he saw it, as an outsider looking in. His settings were symbols of the landscape of mid-20th century America: crowded diners, drive-in movies, gas stations, political rallies. Here were all of the monuments of the rugged self-determination of the “American Dream”. However, after nearly a decade in the United States, Frank became disillusioned with that ideal. These photos, collected as The Americans, portray a society that is nearly the antithesis of the accepted view of America in the ‘50s, of a nation reveling in a golden age of post-war prosperity. This view of America was received negatively when The Americans was first released, but is now regarded as one of the most influential bodies of documentary photography.
Since 1959, Frank has been known primarily as a filmmaker. His films include frequent collaborations with Beat writers Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Peter Orlovsky, such as Pull My Daisy and Me and My Brother, as well as music videos for artists such as New Order and Patti Smith. He also directed the controversial and rarely-seen Rolling Stones tour documentary Cocksucker Blues. Frank continues to work in still photography, and splits his time between New York City and Nova Scotia.