Robert Frank

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Robert Frank (born November 9, 1924 in Zurich , Switzerland ; † September 9, 2019 in Inverness , Canada ) was a Swiss - American photographer , film director and cameraman . Frank revolutionized the aesthetics of the photo book with The Americans (1958) , making it one of the most influential illustrated books of the 20th century. A year later, Frank expanded the style used in it to documentary films , which is also considered to be the beginning of independent film . Experimental photomontages followed later. According to Juri Steiner, Frank developed "a completely independent, subjective and socially critical style of poetic-documentary photography that the Americans call" snapshot aesthetic "."


Robert Frank was born in 1924 as the son of the interior designer Hermann Frank from Frankfurt am Main and the Swiss Rosa Zucker from Basel . The father, who had become stateless under the Reich Citizenship Act because of his Jewish origin, applied for Swiss citizenship for his sons in 1941 , which Robert Frank did not receive until 1945. In his native Zurich, he attended primary school in the Gabler school from 1931 to 1937 and secondary school in the Lavater school from 1937 to 1940. In 1940 he completed a year in Switzerland at the Jomini Institute in Payerne , and from January 1941 to March 1942 he completed a freelance training course with the photographer and graphic artist Hermann Segesser in Zurich. From August 1942 to September 1944 he was initially an apprentice, then an employee in Michael Wolgensinger's studio in Zurich, and from December 1944 to June 1945 assistant to Victor Bouverat in Geneva .

Robert Frank later reported on the security in his parents' home with a father who was "a good photographer" himself, even if only in his free time and to relax, because he was concerned with making too much money in his work environment. His father “paid a high price” for it, Robert Frank once said. At the age of 23, he found his homeland too narrow-minded.

His Swiss citizenship, which was in question, gave Robert Frank the feeling of being “different” in view of the anti-Semitism that was also noticeable in Switzerland at the time . Although he assimilated into his surroundings and belonged to nationalist associations (for example the Swiss Alpine Club ). After Adolf Hitler had withdrawn their citizenship from all German Jews, Frank's brothers and father also found themselves in a precarious position as stateless persons. In order to obtain Swiss citizenship, Robert Frank was asked in writing to prove that he had fully adapted to Swiss society and no longer had any Jewish characteristics. The family was therefore in constant fear of being deported during the war. To the annoyance of his upper-class parents, his son Robert spent these years as an apprentice to various photographers. His work at the time reflects the spirit of the Swiss epoch, in which it tried to differentiate itself from Nazi Germany. Strikingly, there is a note of patriotic propaganda in Robert Frank's pictures of parades and festivals, grape pickers or landscapes. Flags appeared in these early works - a later leitmotif in The Americans .

Between 1941 and 1947 Robert Frank worked as a photographer in Zurich and Geneva and was responsible, among other things, for the stills in various Swiss films. He then traveled to New York , where he presented his photo portfolio to Alexei Brodowitsch , the well-known artistic director of the Harper's Bazaar fashion magazine . Brodowitsch recognized his talent and hired him as an assistant photographer in the same year. Frank admired the work of the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson , who co-founded the Magnum agency in 1947 . Frank later rejected the norms in Cartier-Bresson's work as being superficial and meaningless. Instead of telling stories with a beginning and an end, Frank developed the idea of ​​the moment, of the moment that a recording should capture, as his ideal.

On trips abroad on behalf of his employers between 1948 and 1954 through Peru , Bolivia , Spain , Italy , southern France , England and Wales , Robert Frank met the photographers and photo journalists Elliott Erwitt , Edward Steichen and Walker Evans . During this time he worked for magazines such as Life , McCall’s , Look , Charm , Vogue and Fortune .

From 1953 Frank began in New York with Edward Steichen to find and select works for the exhibition Post-War European Photographers at the Museum of Modern Art and for The Family of Man .

In 1954 he applied for a Guggenheim grant , which he was granted in 1955. He planned to shoot a large-scale photo reportage about the United States. “That was wonderful, because it teaches you something about the country,” he said later. As a result, he traveled through the United States until 1957 and took 28,000 photos, of which he selected and compiled only 83 prints for his book The Americans . Since he could not find a US publisher for his book project, it was thanks to the openness of the French publisher Robert Delpire that his work could be published, albeit with a lot of text. Back in New York, he became aware of Jack Kerouac , the writer of the Beat Generation . He met him at a party, showed him his photos and asked for the preface to The Americans . As a result, Frank became part of the circle around Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg .

From 1959 Robert Frank began making films. His first work, Pull My Daisy , takes up a scene from Kerouac's unfinished play The Beat Generation and was filmed as actors in a private apartment with friends. In the next few decades Frank made over 30 films, all of which were produced independently and without a budget. Richard Linklater said: If Frank had not already become known as an influential photographer, he would have been famous as the inventor of independent film . In 1972 he was commissioned by the Rolling Stones to make a documentary about their tour for the album Exile on Main Street . The result - Cocksucker Blues - showed boredom, decadence and companions of the band who took a shot on hotel beds. Because of this ruthless realism, the band only released the film for individual screenings in the presence of the director. A bootleg circulated in artistic circles and became the subject of Don DeLillo's novel Underworld .

Frank's first marriage was the dancer and artist Mary Lockspeiser , with whom he had two children; he left her in 1969. He concluded a second marriage in 1975 with the sculptor June Leaf , a friend of Mary; the couple settled in Mabou on Cape Breton Island in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia as early as 1971 . From 1972 he devoted himself again to photography. In 1974 his daughter Andrea died in a plane crash in Guatemala at the age of 20 . His son Pablo committed suicide in a psychiatric hospital in 1994 after several years of illness with schizophrenia and cancer. In 1995 Robert Frank founded the Andrea Frank Foundation to support artists. Frank lived alternately in Mabou, Nova Scotia and in New York City.

Awards (selection)


Photo books



  • 1959: Pull My Daisy (with Alfred Leslie )
  • 1961: The Sin of Jesus
  • 1963: OK End Here
  • 1965/68: Me And My Brother
  • 1969: Conversations in Vermont
  • 1969: Life-Raft Earth
  • 1971: About Me: A Musical
  • 1972: Cocksucker Blues
  • 1975: Keep Busy (With Rudy Wurlitzer)
  • 1980: Life Dances On
  • 1981: Energy and How to Get It (With Rudy Wurlitzer and Gary Hill)
  • 1983: This Song For Jack
  • 1985: Home Improvements
  • 1987: Candy Mountain (With Rudy Wurlitzer)
  • 1989: Hunter
  • 1990: C'est vrai! (One hour)
  • 1992: Last Supper
  • 1994: Moving Pictures
  • 2002: Paper Route
  • 2004, 2008: True Story

Exhibitions (selection)


  • Nicholas Dawidoff: Robert Frank. The life of the Swiss photographer of the century. The man who discovered America. Das Magazin , Tamedia , Zurich, July 18, 2015, pp. 8–21.
  • Sarah Greenough, Philip Brookman (Eds.): Robert Frank. Moving out. Scalo, Zurich 1994, ISBN 3-9803851-5-9 .
  • Sarah Greenough: Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans, Expanded Edition. National Gallery Of Art, Washington; Steidl, Göttingen 2009, ISBN 978-3-86521-806-3 .

Films about Robert Frank

  • Look into the soul of America - the photographer Robert Frank. (OT: Don't Blink - Robert Frank. ) Documentary, USA, 2015, TV version: 52 min., Theatrical version: 82 min., Script and director: Laura Israel, production: Vega Film, Charlotte Street Films, Assemblage Films, arte France, first broadcast in German: July 11, 2017, synopsis by ARD , film page . Trailer (1:45)
  • Leaving Home, Coming Home: A Portrait of Robert Frank. Documentary, Great Britain, 2004, 48:48 min., Written and directed by Gerald Fox, produced by Granada Production, London Weekend Television (LWT), series: The South Bank Show , synopsis with online video.

Web links



Individual evidence

  1. ^ Artist / Robert Frank. In: Steidl Verlag , 2017, accessed on July 10, 2017.
  2. Sean O'Hagan: Robert Frank at 90: the photographer who revealed America won't look back. In: The Guardian , November 7, 2014.
  3. Nicholas Dawidoff: A Mesmerizing Marathon of Robert Frank's movie. In: The New Yorker , July 12, 2016: "Critics, including Manohla Dargis , of the Times , and younger filmmakers, such as Richard Linklater and Jim Jarmusch , consider Frank the godfather of independent American personal cinema."
  4. Juri Steiner : Frank, Robert. In: Sikart , 2011.
  9. Tom Hägler: Robert Frank - the poet of photography turns 90. In: SRF , November 9, 2014.
  10. a b c Deutsche Welle ( He replaced dream with reality: The photographer Robert Frank died | DW | 09/10/2019. Retrieved September 10, 2019 (German).
  11. a b c d e Nicholas Dawidoff: The Man Who Saw America. In: The New York Times , July 2, 2015, with large format images.
  12. ^ Bill Wyman: Lost and Found: Classic Rock Shows on YouTube. In: The New Yorker . October 25, 2013, accessed July 10, 2017 .   Richard Brody: “Cocksucker Blues”: Robert Frank's Suppressed Rolling Stones Documentary Comes to Film Forum. In: The New Yorker , July 20, 2016.
  13. Nicholas Dawidoff: The Man Who Discovered America. In: Das Magazin , Tamedia, Zurich, July 18, 2015, pp. 8–21.
  14. Sean O'Hagan: The big empty. In: The Guardian , October 24, 2004.
  15. Andrea Frank Foundation.  ( Page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Dead Link /   In: , accessed July 11, 2017; see. Foundation website: Andrea Frank Foundation.
  16. Grand Design Prize of the Swiss Confederation. In: Ernst Scheidegger Foundation. Retrieved July 10, 2017 .
  17. ^ Robert Frank • New York. In: , 2012, accessed on July 10, 2017.
  18. Academy Members. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed January 14, 2019 .
  19. Freddy Langer: That particular civilization. The most important journey in the history of photography. In: FAZ , February 5, 2015, page R6, with photo gallery.
  20. ^ A b Exhibitions> Robert Frank: Photos. In: Art Institute of Chicago , 1961/2017.
  21. ^ Exhibitions in 1976. In: Kunsthaus Zürich .
  22. Robert Frank. The Americans. In: Jan Kesner Gallery, October 21 to November 25, 1989.
  23. ^ Robert Frank: Storylines. In: Tate Gallery of Modern Art , 2004–2005.
  24. ^ Robert Frank - Storylines. In: Fotomuseum Winterthur, 2005.
  25. ^ Sl: Robert Frank in the Museum Folkwang Essen. In: Ruhr-Guide , April 22, 2008.
  26. Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans. In: National Gallery of Art , 2009.
  27. Robert Frank. The movies. In: C / O Berlin , 2009.
  28. Photographs From The Collections Of Fotomuseum Winterthur And Fotostiftung Schweiz, Switzerland. (No longer available online.) Archived from the original on October 31, 2012 ; accessed on November 7, 2014 (eng). Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.   Victoria Belikova :. In: Globe-M , October 27, 2012. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  29. ^ Sabine Buchwald: The anarchic power of the photographer. Robert Frank's pictures can be seen as a gigantic wall newspaper in the Academy of Fine Arts. The catalog for this is a special SZ. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung , No. 270, November 24, 2014, page R4, beginning of the article.
    Alex Rühle : Beauty for the moment. In: SZ , November 20, 2014, (PDF; 42 kB).
  30. The man who saw the Americans. What's outside is always different - photographs and films by Robert Frank in a slightly different retrospective. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung , April 9, 2015, p. 38, beginning of the article.
  31. ^ Robert Frank in America. ( Memento of the original from June 18, 2017 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. In: Stanford University , 2014/15. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  32. 360 ° panorama of the exhibition. In: Hall 14 , Leipzig. Retrieved July 10, 2017 .
  33. ^ Robert Frank: Books and Films. 1947-2016. In: Museum der Moderne Salzburg .
  34. Robert Frank. Books and Films 1947-2016. ( Memento of the original from October 30, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. In: Kunsthalle Ziegelhütte / Heinrich Gebert Kulturstiftung Appenzell, 2016. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /