Robert Frank (1924–2019) was a Swiss-born American documentary photographer and filmmaker. He was one of the most influential creative photographers of the mid-20th century. His seminal book The Americans (1959) helped change the direction of photography.
Born in Zürich, Frank was an industrial photographer during his early twenties before joining Harper’s Bazaar magazine in Paris. He worked in fashion photography until 1948 and then traveled in the USA, South America, and Europe.
During the mid-1950s, Frank undertook multiple road trips across America, capturing 28,000 black-and-white images. 83 of those became his monumental book called The Americans (1959; French: Les Américains, 1958.)
Consisting of bold images of American culture and capturing often-shocking pictures of the finer points of life, The Americans included text by American novelist Jack Kerouac. Frank’s eye for bold composition and his often-ironical perspective established him as one of the most influential photographers of his time. His fresh, nuanced, outsider’s view of American society earned comparisons to the French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville.
Frank then made films, including the avant-garde Pull My Daisy (1959; screenplay by Kerouac) featuring Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky, and other authors of the Beat generation. Frank also created feature-length films with other independent makers. His autobiographical video, Home Improvements (1985,) was a melancholy work.
Frank also worked for a variety of magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar, Life, and Vogue. His life was chronicled in the documentaries Leaving Home, Coming Home: A Portrait of Robert Frank (2004) and Don’t Blink—Robert Frank (2015.)
Life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference and it is important to see what is invisible to others.