However, the work was only temporary, as Frank began to formulate his ideas about art, life and photography. America was in the midst of a dramatic change under President Eisenhower. While some photographers were attempting to show American as one people, Frank and his friends saw something different. Their vision of America through art and poetry reflected “alienation, loneliness and spiritual desolation”, writes photography historian Robert Hirsch. With a Guggenheim Fellowship grant in 1955, Frank set out to document America as he saw it. Although his cross-country road trip to capture America was one of the most influential and repeated road trips in photographic history, its beginning was a little rocky.
However, Frank offered a unique perspective not only with this photography, but his background. This perspective gave him an advantage because he did not have an idealized perception of what America “should be”. He exposed more than 800 rolls of film on his trip across America. Upon his return home he wanted the images to become a book. However, he was unable to find a publisher in America. The now famous, The Americans, was first published in 1958 in France. The introduction to The Americans was written by Jack Kerouac, author of On the Road (1957) where he compared Robert Frank to Ulysses. Although criticized heavily, The Americans, has now been published four times and set a new standard for photography books. Frank laid out the photographs in a certain sequential order that told the story of his Americans vividly. It was intertwined with repetitive images that have now become icons that represent America, including televisions, diners, jukeboxes, the American Flag and cars. His work on this book led Frank to the film industry. Frank’s straight-forward approach turned many away, but it was this approach that set him a part and made him a significant contributor to the history of photography.
Robert Frank died on September 9th, 2019.