An important and prominent figure in American film and photography, Robert Frank was born in 1924 in Switzerland to an upper class Jewish family. During World War II, Frank along with his family remained safe in his country. In order to rid himself from the affects of surrounding oppression and to escape from his family’s business oriented confinement. Before making his own photo book – 40 Fotos – in 1946, Frank trained himself under some graphic designers and photographers.
A year later, Frank emigrated to America and began working for Harper’s Bazaar in New York as a fashion photographer.
He made another book of photos that he collected shooting in Peru and returned to America in 1950. In the same year, he met Edward Steichen and this encounter gave him a great opportunity for his career. He participated in 51 American Photographs, a group show at the Museum of Modern Art. There he met his future wife with whom he has two children.
Robert Frank developed a feeling that America is often a lonely and bleak place. The society was moving at a fast pace and a lot of emphasis was given to money. At first, he used to be optimistic about American culture and society however as a few years passed, Frank’s perception changed. This perspective is also seen in his later photographs. At work place, he felt that editors interfered a lot with his work. Hence he moved to Paris with his family for some time. In 1953, he returned to New York and continued his work as a photojournalist on freelance basis for magazines like Fortune, Vogue and McCall’s.
In 1955, with a key artistic persuasion from Walker Evans, Frank was granted to travel within United States and take photos of all strata of society. This was possible with the support from John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation which was highly influenced by Evans. Frank visited many cities including Houston (Texas), Reno (Nevada), Chicago (Illinois), St. Petersburg (Florida), Dearborn and Detroit (Georgia), and New Orleans (Louisiana). His family accompanied him for a part of the road trips and during this time he shot 28,000 photos. He selected just 83 shots for The Americans. Although the book received much criticism as pictures being blur and grainy, Frank is usually identified with these photos and the work is considered influential in American art and photography history.
In 1961, Frank did his first solo show – Robert Frank: Photographer – at the Art Institute of Chicago. The same exhibition was displayed in New York as well a year later.
During the publishing of The Americans, Frank began taking an interest in cinematography. He made Pull My Daisy (1959), which starred Gregory Corso, Ginsbery and others. In 1960, he filmed Sin of Jesus and the shoot lasted for six months. His best known documentary film is Cocksucker Blues (the Rolling Stones) filmed in 1972. Due to the controversial value of this piece, it was only permitted by the court to show the film five times a year and that too in the presence of Robert Frank. His photos appeared on the Rolling Stone’s cover album of Exile on main St.
He also made Candy Mountain, Keep Busy, Me and My Brother. In 1970, Frank returned to still photography. He made his second photo book in 1972 – The Lines of My Hand. In 1974, his daughter died in a plane crash and subsequently his son died as well from schizophrenia. Following this, much of Frank’s work dealt with the impact of losing both children.