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Robert Frank

Self-Portrait, Paris

Robert Frank. Self-Portrait, Paris, c. 1949. Maurice D. Galleher Endowment © Robert Frank.

Also known as
Robert Louis Frank
Date of birth
Date of death

Robert Frank began photographing in his native Switzerland in the 1940s. In 1947, he immigrated to New York, where he worked briefly for Alexey Brodovitch at Harper’s Bazaar. Between 1955 and 1956, with funding from the Guggenheim Foundation, Frank crisscrossed the United States. From the over 25,000 images he took during this trip, he chose just 83 for his landmark photobook The Americans (1958/59). Frank’s America showed glowing jukeboxes and cars everywhere; despondent elevator operators, blowhard politicians, and the realities and reactions of black Americans. “He sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film,” as poet Jack Kerouac wrote in the book’s introduction. Although initially called anti-American, The Americans soon gained the status of iconic. 

Frank had his first one-person museum show at the Art Institute in 1961: a set of prints newly made from The Americans (30 of which joined the museum’s collection). Yet the photographer had already headed in other directions. Uncomfortable with adulation and put off by hasty readings of his work, Frank turned to cinema, making the acclaimed films Pull My Daisy (1959) and Me and My Brother (1965–68), among others. In 2000, the artist donated an additional 38 photographs to the Art Institute, to contrast with or complement his images in The Americans. In 2017, the museum held a two-week pop-up show of Frank’s books and films, followed by a longer exhibition showing the complete set of 27 prints from his recent book Partida (2014).

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