ROBERT FRANK BIOGRAPHY
Artist's Biography, Swiss (b. 1924)

Frank was born to a wealthy Jewish family in Switzerland. Though Frank and his family remained safe in Switzerland during World War II, the threat of Nazism nonetheless affected his understanding of oppression. He turned to photography in part as a means to escape the confines of his business-oriented family and home, and trained under a few photographers and graphic designers before he released his first book of photographs, 40 Fotos, in 1946.

Frank emigrated to the United States in 1947, and secured a job in New York City as a fashion photographer for Harper's Bazaar. He soon left to travel in South America and Europe. He published two more books of photos he took in Peru, and returned to the U.S. in 1950. That year was momentous for Frank, who after meeting Edward Steichen participated in the group show 51 American Photographers at the Museum of Modern Art; he also married fellow artist, Mary Lockspeiser, with whom he had two children, Andrea and Pablo.

Though he was initially optimistic about the United States, Frank's perspective quickly changed as he confronted the fast pace of American life and what he saw as an overemphasis on money. He now saw America as an often bleak and lonely place, a perspective that became evident in his later photography. Frank's own dissatisfaction with the control his employers exercised over his work also undoubtedly colored his experience. He continued to travel, moving his family briefly to Paris. In 1953, he returned to New York and quit fashion photography to become a freelance photojournalist for magazines including McCall's, Vogue, and Ladies Home Journal.

With the aid of his major artistic influence, the photographer Walker Evans, Frank secured a grant from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1955 to travel across the United States and photograph its society at all strata. He took his family along with him for part of his series of road trips over the next two years, during which time he took 28,000 shots. Only 83 of those were finally selected by him for publication in The Americans.

Shortly after returning to New York in 1957, Frank met Beat writer Jack Kerouac on the sidewalk outside a party and showed him the photographs from his travels. Kerouac immediately told Frank "Sure I can write something about these pictures," and he contributed the introduction to the U.S. edition of The Americans. Frank also became lifelong friends with Allen Ginsberg, and was one of the main visual artists to document the Beat subculture, which felt an affinity with Frank's interest in documenting the tensions between the optimism of the 1950s and the realities of class and racial differences. The irony that Frank found in the gloss of American culture and wealth over this tension gave Frank's photographs a clear contrast to those of most contemporary American photojournalists, as did his use of unusual focus, low lighting and cropping that deviated from accepted photographic techniques.

This divergence from contemporary photographic standards created difficulties for Frank in securing an American publisher. Les Americains was first published in 1958 by Robert Delpire in Paris, and finally in 1959 in the United States by Grove Press, where it initially received substantial criticism.

Frank and Mary separated in 1969. He remarried to sculptor June Leaf, and in 1971, moved to the community of Mabou in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. He had only recently begun to document his family in his art when tragedy struck: in 1974, his daughter, Andrea, was killed in a plane crash in Tical, Guatemala. Also around this time, his son, Pablo, was first hospitalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia. Much of Frank's subsequent work has dealt with the impact the loss of his daughter and his son's continuing battle with mental illness has had upon him. In 1995, he founded the Andrea Frank Foundation, which provides grants to artists.

Since his move to Nova Scotia, Frank has divided his time between his home there in a former fisherman's shack on the coast, and his Bleecker Street loft in New York. He has acquired a reputation for being a recluse (particularly since the death of Andrea), declining most interviews and public appearances. He has continued to accept eclectic assignments, however, such as photographing the 1984 Democratic National Convention, and directing music videos for artists such as New Order and Patti Smith. Frank continues to produce both films and still images, and has helped organize several retrospectives of his art.

Source: "Robert Frank," Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. January 12, 2006.

 

   

   

 

   
   
 

 
   
   
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