Born Robert Louis Frank in Zurich on 9 November 1924, the photographer emigrated to the United States at age 23. His work appeared in such U.S. publications as Fortune, Life, Look, McCall’s, Vogue and Ladies Home Journal. He traveled to London, Wales and Peru from 1949 to 1952, the New York Times writes.
Yet it was his criss-crossing of the continental United States that provided him the subject matter for “Les Americains,” which was first published in France by Robert Delpire in 1958.
Grove Press published the U.S. version the following year, with an introduction by Jack Kerouac, whom Frank had met after completing his travels stateside.
“Robert Frank changed the way we see,” Mark Lubell, executive director of the International Center of Photography, told The Associated Press. “When ‘The Americans’ came out, America was on the rise. America had won the war. But he saw something different, things that were not as rosy a picture as Life magazine might have had it.”
The AP story also notes that 83 black-and-white photographs were culled from more than 28,000 images Frank took from 1955 to 1957 to produce “The Americans.” The trip was funded by a Guggenheim Fellowship secured for him by American photographer Walker Evans.
In a 2008 interview with Vanity Fair, Frank himself expressed surprise at the attention and critical acclaim his collection of photographs.
“It amazes me,” he said. “It’s a book of such simplicity, really. It doesn’t really say anything. It’s apolitical. There’s nothing happening in these photos. People say they’re full of hate. I never saw that. I never felt that. I just went out to the street corners and looked for interesting people. O.K., I looked for the extremes, but that’s because the mediocre, the middle, it’s bland and that bores me.
“They called the book drab and sad. But at that time photography wasn’t that advanced. It’s not drab and sad. This is what it was. I had no idea. There was no agenda. I was absolutely amazed when I went to the South. The stupidity. It was sadistic then.
“But looking at these pictures now, I don’t see what all the fuss was.”
Besides Evans, Frank counted as influences painter Edward Hopper and French photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson, though he later dismissed Cartier-Bresson’s approach.
Frank’s loose, experiential “snapshot aesthetic” was given prominence in a 1967 exhibition, titled “New Documents” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The show presented the work of little-known American artists Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand.
One of his most widely seen collections of his work came in the form of an album cover for “Exile on Main Street” by the Rolling Stones in 1972. The cover art comprised black-and-white photographs by Frank.
“He was an incredible artist whose unique style broke the mould,” the band tweeted on Tuesday.
The band also acknowledged Frank’s work on “Cocksucker Blues,” an unreleased documentary film of the Rolling Stones on their 1972 U.S. tour.